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Back Spin:
A Brief -- And Mostly True - History of Promo Only
 By Glen Ervin

PROMO ONLY - Orlando Main Office 
257 S. Lake Destiny Dr.
Orlando, FL USA

The First Ten Years

Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday, Promo Only. Happy Birthday to you.

Promo Only is ten years old this year. 

Let's put that into perspective: it's 1992 -- a 600-megabyte hard drive cost $4000, a decent DAT recorder weighed in at around 70 pounds, and if you weren't sure which way the technology winds were blowing, you weren't alone. Even the major record companies were sitting on the sidelines while the tug of war between analog and digital audio wore on. As a consequence, the release of promotional records stalled as the industry struggled for direction. If you were a DJ searching the record bins for new releases, you couldn't help but feel as though you were the one caught in the middle.

Sure, there were a couple of music services available: one charged $200 a month (and didn't include the all-important 12" releases so vital to DJs), the other offered its services for free - with a paid magazine subscription - and charged the record labels to include their newest releases (a practice that did not bring out the best the labels had to offer). Neither had a DJ's best interests at heart.

Enter two DJs ... 

Promo Only began modestly enough with DJ and digital audio consultant, Jim Robinson's search for a copy of Janet Jackson's 'Miss You Much (The Mama Mix).'  Robinson's quest led him to friend and Billboard reporting DJ, Pete Werner (Werner was one of the lucky few still being provided with the precious few promotional releases the labels were still doling out to select DJs). Happy to help a friend out, Werner loaned his friend the Jackson mix for Robinson to copy in his digital home studio. Robinson, in return, offered that he would be glad to copy the dozens of bulky 12" vinyl releases Werner received each month onto one DAT. They even joked about having the DAT shipped off and pressed as an even more convenient CD.

Just two friends helping each other out - when the light bulb went off.

Together, Robinson and Werner realized that having all the current club hits on one easy-to-manage CD was an idea that had teeth. As DJs, they saw the potential market for such a package. As businessmen they realized its worth. As entrepreneurs, they put their own time, talents and capital on the line to assemble what would become the very first issue of Promo Only.  

Today, some ten years later, DJs helping DJs remains the focus of Promo Only.

Promo Only (later renamed 'Promo Only Club') made its debut in June of 1992 as the first monthly music service available to music professionals on CD. It featured the latest 12" Dance mixes and offered early subscribers many hard, if not impossible-to-find, releases.

Robinson and Werner quickly went about expanding their line of product to include a monthly compilation of the latest pop releases. Columbia Records head of pop promotions, Jerry McKenna, already a fan of Promo Only's Club series, was the first to offer the resources of his label to the still-struggling company. Dubbed Promo Only Radio, it combined the best of pop, dance, urban and rock Top 40 releases.

Other series soon followed: Urban Radio (August 1994), Country Radio (June 1994) and Modern Rock Radio (November 1995) quickly established themselves -- and Promo Only -- as DJ favorites.

With the additions of the Rhythm Radio and Rhythm Club series in November 1997, Robinson and Werner began what was to be a series of changes, all geared towards offering a greater selection of music.

It was here that Promo Only began dividing their line of CDs into two categories -- Radio and Club -- a practice that continues to this day. Promo Only Club and Promo Only Radio became Mainstream Club and Mainstream Radio, respectively, and subscribers were able to enjoy the clear differences that separated the two formats. DJs working teen, wedding and other similar family functions were able to enjoy the short, 'clean' edits the new Radio series provided; Club DJs were able to focus their time and resources on the series that featured a growing number of 12" dance and rhythm-crossover mixes. 

1997 also saw the creation of Promo Only Canada. With its programming geared specifically for Canadian audiences (and fully licensed by the AVLA) Promo Only's Canadian division quickly became as popular as its U.S. counterpart. Similarly, Promo Only's excursion into the European market with the opening of its London branch has met with much success.

Always swift to meet any music trend that shows itself to be of substance and duration, 1999 saw Promo Only begin its third CD series. The Latin Series had evolved into three distinct categories: Tropical, Regional and, most recently, Pop.

Werner and Robinson were equally quick to see that music video was a medium waiting to be properly developed. Even the late 90s saw video jockeys wishing to offer music video forced to deal with clumsy VHS tape and inferior sound quality. Seizing the opportunity to buy out long-time friend Wolf Zimmerman (of Wolfram Video) when he announced his retirement, Robinson and Werner brought the entire Wolfram staff and 40,000-plus video library to their Orlando-based operation and set up music video shop in late 1999. With the foresight and entrepreneurial spirit Robinson and Werner have always demonstrated, Promo Only quickly began offering a series of enhanced music videos - priced within the means of the average DJ and VJ - and available via the digital medium of DVD.

Today the Promo Only line of music video has reached six monthly series - Hot Video, Dance Mix Video, Pop Mix Video, Club Video, Country Video and Latin Video. Promo Only also offers an extended line of specialty compilation DVDs, the latest of which is Hot Video Classics (Best of 1987-1989).

Characteristically, Robinson and Werner are quick to point out that they could have accomplished little without the support of their talented staff of programmers and engineers. They are quick to credit long-time head of audio programming Chuck Barrett, video-programming director, Nick Allard, and their talented staffs as the people who realize their vision. Equally important are the people of the Promo Only sales and customer service departments who insure that each customer gets the service and selection they deserve.

As to the future, Promo Only plans to expand on its line of DVD music video, as well as its line of DJ and VJ specific audio and video gear. Also in the works, the debut of their 14th monthly CD series, tentatively titled Christian Radio.

Whatever the future may hold for DJs and VJs, you can bet Promo Only - the only DJ service run by DJs -- will be there, making friends one CD and DVD at a time.


Happy Birthday, Promo Only!








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