Of these songs, 4,000 remain on constant rotation. The songs consist of, but are not limited to, Armenian folk, traditional, and contemporary pop. In their goal to support the Armenian community, Yerevan Nights also features emerging Armenian artists who release non-Armenian-language albums, such as Maria, a Los Angeles-based R&B singer. Such up and coming artists come to Yerevan Nights to gain an audience.
“The selection is what makes the station what it is,” says Zarzand, the selfprofessed quality controller. “I’m the one that decides whether an album will play or not.”
Ultimately, however, it’s the 6,000 active members of Yerevan Nights who decide the play list and the continuous “Dynamic Top Ten” ranks – the most popular requests by listeners. To vote for or to dedicate a song, listeners need to register and become members. Meanwhile, anyone can log on to listen or watch any of the roughly 200 music videos on the site.
Along with music, Yerevan Nights features programs that repeat to reach listeners in different times zones. “We concentrate on the US audience,” Zarzand says. “Then Europe and Russia, which covers 80% of our audience, so we’re pretty much safe.”
Programs include “Hye Eli,” a radio program from Canada hosted by Tamar Haytayan, news from Armenia provided by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and “Handipum,” a musicbased talk show hosted by musician Gor Mkhitarian.
For the past two years Yerevan Nights has streamed the live broadcasting of the Armenian Music Awards and also allowed listeners to participate in choosing the winners. Each listener vote counted as a percentage of overall tallies for all categories.
“We learned it by doing it,” Zarzand says, referring to the exponential growth of Yerevan Nights. “The whole thing was to do it at home. I never imagined it to grow to this scale.”
This past month Yerevan Nights testran two live call-in shows hosted by Mkhitarian. The first was in response to the March 1 riots in Armenia and had call-ins from Yerevan. The second show was based on music with callers from all over the world. “The program ran for three hours because there were so many callers,” Zarzand says.
“Right now we’re not generating any revenue,” Zarzand adds. Everything comes out of their pockets, including the time and passion to see the project grow into something more than an Internet radio station.
A year ago Zarzand and company launched a one-hour talk show dedicated to music and the arts. Called Yerevan Nights TV, the show continues to air on Horizon TV on Saturdays and Sundays at 9 p.m.
“We had radio for about two years and were entertaining the idea that at some point we should have a TV show as well,” Armen recalls. “We were thinking about media, not just radio.” Yerevan Nights TV, which first aired on Horizon in January 2007 and is hosted by Armen’s sister, Anna, has gained a considerable audience, especially in Los Angeles.
Zarzand and his partners managed to produce the show with their own resources. Featured Yerevan Nights TV guests include singers, songwriters, musicians, painters, and actors.
“It’s a lot of work, but we’re able to reach a part of the audience that we wouldn’t reach with just the radio,” Armen explains. “Since radio is limited only to Internet users, fellow Armenians, especially the older generation, who don’t really use the Internet, rely mainly on TV [for] a connection to their cultural heritage. So the TV show was just a logical expansion of our operations. The purpose is similar to radio’s: promoting high-quality Armenian music and culture”
“The bigger picture is to bring Armenians together,” Sarkis says. “The best part is when people appreciate and acknowledge the good we’re doing for the community.”
“A lot of non-Armenian-speaking Armenians are being exposed to our music,” Zarzand adds. “They don’t understand a word, but they listen because it’s Armenian.”
“My favorite part is actually getting emails from extremely remote places on this earth, and getting e-mails that say. ‘I’m a fifth-generation Armenian and I’ve never heard Armenian language and music,’” Armen says. “It gives me goose bumps – when you actually may be doing a service to Armenians who wouldn’t otherwise have access to their cultural roots.”
“Because we know that there is a future generation of Armenian kids that at some point will associate with Armenian music,” Armen continues. “You can’t expect people to research culturally valuable music. If they don’t have the quality material catered to them, they will find what is easily digestible: usually lower-quality music.”
Yerevan Nights gives all Armenians, and non-Armenians, this chance to appreciate quality Armenian music. “If they have no exposure to high-quality Armenian music, chances are they will not discover it and won’t grow to like it,” Armen notes. “It’s not just what you hear at parties. There is so much more… so many who have made sacrifices to preserve true Armenian music. I’m not sounding pessimistic; I’m just analyzing the situation we’re in. If I were pessimistic, I would not be doing this.”
“I would like to see Yerevan Nights expand into High Definition and satellite radio,” Sarkis says. “We want to reach to people in their cars, especially in Los Angeles, where people spend so much time driving.”
“Internet is the best solution for now,” Zarzand echoes. “Because it’s the whole world.”
“It’s a challenge to get there, but it’s more possible than not,” Armen explains.
“With the help of the listenership we can reach our goals. We read every single e-mail and always welcome input from listeners because that’s the only way we can serve them better.”
Currently the forces behind Yerevan Nights are working on major enhancements that will enable social-networking features, such as text-messaging to notify of dedications, e-mails to spread word of local events, and favorite lists viewable by friends and other visitors. The partners are also developing original programming with hosts and live call-ins. They would like to bring in programs from Armenia and encourage Armenians from various countries to contribute.
“We want to bring all these varieties of programs,” Zarzand says. “Keep people updated on what’s going on with Armenians in Russia, for example. The whole point is one central place to bring information from different sources.”
For a small operation that has already reached far beyond the four walls of Zarzand’s bedroom, something tells me they are well on their way to accomplishing anything they set their minds to.