How a Seattle radio station broke the Internet with an all-day Beastie Boys celebration

It’s not every day that a public radio station in Seattle trends nationally on Twitter, but then it’s not every day that one celebrates the anniversary of “Paul’s Boutique,” either.

Released on July 26, 1989, the seminal Beastie Boys sample-packed masterpiece “Paul’s Boutique” cemented the band’s status as cultural icons — not the mere party bros fighting for their right to party on their debut “Licensed to Ill.” To celebrate the 26th anniversary, Seattle radio station KEXP dedicated Friday to playing every song sampled on the record — between 105 and 115 in total — over a 12-hour stretch. In the process, the station became a viral sensation, a not-for-profit media company that schooled the Internet on how to create and market incredibly engaging content.

“It represents what we do here; it’s just a very bold way of telling people,” said KEXP’s morning host John Richards, whose idea it was. “The viral marketing side of this has been outstanding.” It probably  didn’t hurt that the station provided some much-needed entertainment on a slow summer Friday.

By noon Pacific time nearly 2,000 tweets mentioned the album (on a typical day that number is less than 50), according to social analytics firm Topsy. KEXP was mentioned in 808 tweets in the past day — and the station hosted 10,000 live streams, double its normal online listenership.

The term “Paul’s Boutique” became a trending topic on Twitter. Rolling Stone and Wired gave the station shout-outs, as did the official Beastie Boys Twitter feed (and those of other celebs, like Colin Hanks).

The success of the stunt taught Richards a few things about getting heard over the digital din, as the day approached its halfway mark:

‘Mission and passion’
The “Paul’s Boutique” gambit is very much on-brand for KEXP, a public radio station and community centerpiece in Seattle. “It’s the combination of mission and passion: we’re paying tribute to a seminal band that we’ve always paid tribute to,” he said. “This wasn’t done for marketing purposes, but it’s probably the best marketing thing we’ve ever done. Our brand is extremely organic and we’ve enhanced the brand without even purposely doing that.”

And that authenticity is paying off. It had, by noon, driven 40 donations from around the country, totaling more than $3,000, unheard of for a day that was not devoted to fundraising, said Richards.

Don’t be shy
Richards and the rest of the KEXP team got the word out early, and let the station’s fans do the promotional work for them. Not every brand can get the Beastie Boys to tweet on their behalf, but relying on social media influencers pays dividends.

“Every player in this has been getting the word out,” said Richards. “Capitol Records were very excited about this. [‘Paul’s Boutique’ producers] The Dust Brothers’ involvement has been huge. We’ve been very proactive in getting the word out. Not being shy, letting people know, made sure that every area was covered: social, print, broadcast. We got it out to the listeners weeks ago.” And the listeners did the work of amplifying that message from there.

Take risks
“Paul’s Boutique,” number 156 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, is a hip hop masterpiece, meticulously crafted out of hundreds of samples. Richards estimated that — if the station was able to get to the Japanese printing of the album — they would play more than 120 songs sampled by the Beasties. The day’s programming would prove to be schizophrenic, to say the least. Richards himself segued from yacht rockers Loggins and Messina into the downtown punk of the Ramones, both sampled on the track “High Plains Drifter.”

“It’s an insane idea,” he said, but its very boldness is what resonated with listeners. “We didn’t know if we’d pull it off. My surprise is how well we’re pulling it off.”

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