As I sit writing at my desk, local singer/songwriter Joel Cross’s “Can’t See” is playing softly through my computer speakers, perfect background music for today’s topic.

Ah, now Madi Davis is crooning her tune “Sleeves.” I’m tuned in to the all-new DentonRadio.com.

Now, while J.R. Byrd sings “Planted,” let me take you back in time five years ago to the birth of DentonRadio.com. It’s the story of a music-lover’s dream that stumbled into a crossroad at exactly the right moment, colliding with a destination’s quest to find an outlet for its voice.

Jake Laughlin Summer 2015 Jake Laughlin and his djembe. Photo by Michael Leza.

It was the spring of 2011. Jake Laughlin was fresh out of UNT, seeking a way to make a viable living while pursuing a passion that had burned within him as long as he could remember: helping people realize their dreams.

Jake’s djembe is always close by – in his jeep, tucked in a corner of the office – at the ready should an impromptu opportunity arise to join a band for a gig. It’s an outlet he discovered through Denton’s open-mic scene during his college days where he met local musicians Brett Coleman, better known as Bone Doggie, and Pat York. The Bohemian approach to playing his drum served as a catalyst for connecting his desire to serve others with Denton’s burgeoning music industry.

Open-mic nights stirred Jake’s musical fervor in a defining way, one that gave his career search specificity and clear direction. As much as he loves the djembe, Jake began to realize that his real passion, like Bone Doggie’s in producing open-mic events, was discovering Denton’s musical gems, connecting these talents with each other and, most importantly with audiences.

Joel Cross performs at West Oak Coffee Bar as part of Denton Black Film Festival. (Photo by Denton CVB) Joel Cross performs at West Oak Coffee Bar as part of Denton Black Film Festival. (Photo by Denton CVB)

During his major studies in Communications, Jake was intrigued by the rapidly expanding world of radio from traditional airwaves to Internet-based platforms. He imagined introducing Denton’s music scene to the world, no barriers of geography and airwaves with which to contend. Bone Doggie, and later Pat, were quick adopters, and DentonRadio.com was born.

At about the same time, the CVB was working to identify a vehicle for effectively utilizing the Denton music to enhance awareness of Denton as a visitor destination. The project concept just couldn’t find its legs until a chance encounter brought the CVB and the young entrepreneur together. Jake’s fledgling DentonRadio.com needed a credibile entity behind it and the CVB needed his expertise. Just 18 months after its conception, DentonRadio.com and the CVB joined forces and have never looked back.

DentonRadio.com screenshotJust a few weeks ago, on January 8, the CVB officially launched the all new DentonRadio.com, now an app for Apple and Android devices, available for free in the App Store and Google Play. Complete with formal licensing versus old-style release forms, all kinds of Denton music is playing 24/7 from up-and-coming new names to the biggest legends ever to come out of Denton. I think of it as Pandora for Denton.

“Not really,” Jake said. “There actually is a Denton station on Pandora. But it’s not all Denton music. That’s not how Pandora works and why DentonRadio.com is so incredibly unique.”

Pandora operates on a “sound-like, serve-up” system. It will play a Denton musician, and if the listener stays on the station, Pandora will then serve up other music that sounds like that musician. The next piece may or may not be a Denton original. The new DentonRadio.com is ground-breaking technology, because it is all Denton sound customized to the listener’s own style preferences. The DentonRadio.com listener experience is super-ramped-up from anything Pandora has to offer. Like the unprecedented free skip and rewind feature. Like music genre filters that allow listeners to customize their Denton music channels. Like the calendar powered by Discover Denton that showcases Denton artists and venues, who is playing where and when. Like a subscription feature that lets listeners follow an artist and receive notifications when they are playing around Denton.

There’s more. In April, DentonRadio.com takes its biggest step forward as the centerpiece in the Discover Denton Welcome Center. Jake is managing the sidewalk-facing studio where listeners and passersby can watch what’s on the radio and interact with it in a complete sensory experience. “It will be the amplified, digital version of ‘dentoning,’” Jake laughs.

On March 29 from 7-9 p.m., DentonRadio.com is bringing back an old tradition, an Artist Gathering, at Audacity Brew House. Everyone is welcome, artist or not, to come out and hear first-hand news about where DentonRadio.com has been and where it’s going from here.

On the eve of DentonRadio.com’s fifth birthday, Jake is reflective. Zach Balch’s tune “Catch What You’ve Got” plays softly in the background as we talk.

“Everything cool was once new. Everything new was once weird,” Jake says. “And, everything weird needed support to be discovered so it could shift to the cool column. That’s Denton. New and weird can flourish here. DentonRadio.com helps make that happen.”