More bandwidth for a cultural revolution
The Yerevan Nights phenomenon goes into second gear

by Adrineh Gregorian

This is a story not unheard of in recent years, especially given the advent of the World Wide Web: a young man ponders in his room and comes up with an idea. This young man tells his close friends about the idea and then spends hours, days, weeks, in his room developing the concept and making it available to the world through the Internet. Said project becomes popular among a few friends, then thousands, and finally goes global.

This trajectory is dreamt by many but actualized by a few. Zarzand Papikyan is one of those few. With help from his friends, he created YerevanNights.com, a 24-hour Internet radio station that promotes high-quality Armenian music in all genres.

Zarzand’s concept brought together Armenians from all over the world through one common interest, music, and one common technology, the Internet.

Music and the Internet seem like an obvious marriage, but Zarzand’s idea was just as unique as his name. His program would provide free music streaming and allow the global audience to choose the play list through dedications and voting.

What began as an idea four years ago has turned into the principle outlet for Armenian music on the Web. Together with Sarkis Chakarian and Armen Mkrtchyan, Zarzand has taken YerevanNights. com to places he never dreamt of back in his room.

People all over the world who share a love for Armenian music now have a home that bridges cultural and geographical divides.

How it started

In 2004, there were other Armenian radio stations online, but with limitations and narrow music selections. Zarzand’s love for music prompted him to start his own station. From his home in Burbank, and a DSL connection, he created a computer program that would shuffle songs and incorporate dedications. He called the new station Yerevan Nights, after his birthplace.

“Yerevan Nights is more interactive between the listeners and us,” says Zarzand of what differentiates his station. “If listeners connect and [make requests] on the station, it creates more of a community where people can go to the Web site and enjoy.”

By day, Zarzand was and still is a computer programmer for a stock firm. By night, he spent hours on this labor of love. It first took him weeks to figure out how to do it and even more time to find Armenian-music albums, which he bought with his own money.

By day, Zarzand was and still is a computer programmer for a stock firm. By night, he spent hours on this labor of love. It first took him weeks to figure out how to do it and even more time to find Armenian-music albums, which he bought with his own money.

At this juncture Zarzand partnered with his long-time college friend, Sarkis, who owned a Web development company called Digital Ray. Zarzand’s home operation was insufficient to support the growing number of listeners; Digital Ray’s hosting services would help Yerevan Nights expand. Sarkis donated his time and technical resources to the expansion effort.

Sarkis offered his downtown office’s technology and servers to increase bandwidth for Yerevan Nights’ live streaming. “My company gets to support something for the community and I get to do it with my friends,” Sarkis says.

Sarkis offered his downtown office’s technology and servers to increase bandwidth for Yerevan Nights’ live streaming. “My company gets to support something for the community and I get to do it with my friends,” Sarkis says.

Still working from Zarzand’s home, Armen Mkrtchyan, who worked at Disney Internet Group as a digital media coordinator, partnered in 2005. The operations moved into a 110-square-foot

office in Glendale and later to a slightly larger space.

After regular work hours Zarzand, Sarkis, and Armen became the triumvirate that concentrated on the music, technology, and artists, respectively.

Armen began publicizing the station on Armenian television, contributing to the growth of the enterprise’s popularity. The station currently has six servers serving one purpose: streaming live radio to 1,000 listeners at a time. Though they usually peak at about 600 listeners at a time, statistics show that there are between 80 to 120 thousand unique (i.e., first-time) visitors a month.

It started off for the love of music, but Yerevan Nights’ interest has moved more towards building the Armenian community in Los Angeles and the world. “I’d do anything in my power to bring the community together,” Sarkis says. “Bring people together to do greater things.”

“Almost 120 countries listen to us every day,” Zarzand says. “Statistical data break it even down into regions.” Listeners hail from several countries ranging from Iraq to Canada, with the highest concentration in Los Angeles and a growing audience in Russia.

“It’s unreal but it’s real,” Armen says, referring to an online analysis that showed that during a three-month period in 2007, Yerevan Nights had listeners from 119 countries around the world. “I was surprised too, I was expecting like 50-60,” he adds. “Apparently there are Armenians in 119 countries. I believe there are 192 countries recognized by the United Nations; so we have 73 left [to reach].”

The top five countries in terms of numbers of listeners are the US, Canada, Russia, France, and Germany. Armenia makes the list at number 25. “High bandwidth is still a rarity in Armenia,” Armen says. “Also, there are tons of FM stations and TV stations and other forms of entertainment in Armenia.”

On the whole, Yerevan Nights caters to a diasporan community hungry for what the station is offering. In doing so, Yerevan Nights is contributing to the growth and expansion of Armenian culture itself.

The music

Zarzand put a small case on the desk in front of me. No bigger than a paperback novel, it’s a portable external hard drive that stores the 25,000 songs (all picked out by Zarzand) of Yerevan Nights’ library.

“It’s music we listen to,” Zarzand says. “We weren’t planning on catering to everyone. It was at first a modest effort that grew.”

The library is built primarily with personally purchased CDs (authorized to be played), though artists also send in their albums for consideration.

“Every once in a while we come across rare, unknown recordings,” Armen says. “We have personal connections with most of the music producers and we search through record stores, older rare CDs, we ask everyone – relatives, friends, record producer-friends – and we are actually able to find some gems among them.”