Editor’s note: RTP Beat is a regular feature on Thursdays.Greensboro-based Batanga, a Latin Internet radio network, has signed 14 of its biggest contracts yet in the last three months. Half of those are new clients, says Batanga co-founder and Chief Executive Troy McConnell.

Batanga, which features 18 different stations such as salsa, tango, merengue, classic rock and pop, has inked deals with Ford, General Motors, MSN TV, Coke, the U.S. Air Force and Western Union. GM will sponsor two parts of the Batanga Web site: one that offers songs by Latin music artists that refer to Chevy automobiles, and another that features a different artist each month for the next six months, including an interview with the artist, samples of music, ads and opportunities to buy the artist’s music.

Meanwhile, Kraft, McDonald’s, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the U.S. Army and Navy have renewed their contracts with the fledgling startup. Batanga says the Army is taking advantage of its multimedia advertising opportunities by buying video and audio ads, as well as interactive banners. In addition, the Army is sponsoring a “rock lounge.”

The key to the company’s success has been its ability to capture a much coveted demographic, says McConnell. “We have the largest audience of young U.S. Hispanics found anywhere.”

In December, Batanga.com received 850,000 unique visitors. In March, those visitors grew to 1 million. Since its inception in 1999, Batanga has raised $3 million in venture capital financing. The company has 11 full-time employees.

Batanga’s recent success has spawned phone calls from investors all over the country, says McConnell. “I’m getting calls from complete strangers.”

In memoriam

Software gaming veteran Bob Pickens is raising money again, but this time it’s for a very different cause…one that hits much closer to home. Pickens, chief executive of electronic gaming company CDV USA, lost his daughter, Emily, to spinal cord cancer last May.

Emily’s last words, in one of her last lucid moments, were “Go do beautiful things,” says Pickens.

In her memory, he and his wife, Debbie, are hosting The Emily Pickens Memorial Scholarship Walk to raise $100,000 for the Lucy Daniels Center for Early Childhood. The center’s early intervention program, where Debbie serves as the educational director, provides services to young children with significant emotional difficulties. “The idea is, if we can help them at an early age, then they can perform regularly as youth, adolescents and adults,” says Pickens.

The five-mile walk takes place Saturday, May 31, from 8:30 AM. It starts and ends at The Lucy Daniels Center on Weston Parkway, in Cary.

Local hotels are donating more than 100 rooms for out-of-towners; local restaurants such as Outback Steakhouse and Stonewood Grille are feeding event participants breakfast and lunch; The Castaways band has donated two hours of playing time; and companies have donated 38 prizes, including an all-expense trip to Hilton head and Hurricanes tickets, for raffle drawings.

“I really want to thank the business and civic community at large,” says Pickens. “They have been wonderfully supportive.”

For more information about the walk, go to: www.emilypickensscholarshipfund.com

It’s all in the timing

Zoom Culture founder Nathan Wieler has a slightly different project up his sleeve these days. The 30-year-old entrepreneur, who founded the now-defunct Chapel Hill television production company, has teamed up with Dwell Magazine, a publication focused on modern home design and architecture. In its first Dwell Design Invitational, the magazine challenged 16 architects to design a 2,000 square-foot prefabricated home for no more than $200,000. Guess whom the home is for? Yep…you guessed it…Wieler and his fianceé, Ingrid Tung, who are tying the knot this weekend. The two purchased a 12-acre lot in Pittsboro last year.

So how did Wieler get selected for the project?

He contacted Dwell Editor-in-Chief Allison Arieff after he saw Dwell and her book Prefab, asking how they could work together in prefabricated housing. “He appeared before the competition did,” says Arieff. “He was willing to be the guinea pig and pay for the lot and house.”

Last weekend at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York City, Dwell announced the winning design of the competition. The design came from architects Joseph Tanney and Robert Luntz , founders of Resolution 4: Architecture, in New York.

Construction on the Dwell Home begins in July and is expected to be completed in the spring of 2004. The magazine will follow the progress of the home’s development. You can see all 16 designs at www.thedwellhome.com starting June.

What do you see on the tech horizon? A ray of sunshine, a thunderbolt or rain shower clouds? E-mail Cal at: cal@localtechwire.com.