There’s nothing like radio to connect people to people, people to places, people to music, and all that’s happening out there. Two Greenpoint entrepreneurs talk about their new streaming internet radio stations—Radio Free Brooklyn and Newtown Radio—and their growing audiences.
Interview with Dexter Taylor of Radio Free Brooklyn (WRFB)
WG: How did Radio Free Brooklyn come about?
DT: I didn’t set out to start a radio station. I thought it would be a good way to promote my film school in Greenpoint.
I came to it in a roundabout way. I’m a hardcore science geek who picked up an acoustic guitar in 1986 and never put it down again. I went to school for biomedical engineering, then abandoned it and got into software development instead. Along the way, I picked up some other skills: IT and networking, sound engineering, motion picture production. I built my first recording studio in 1999, and a few years later I started pulling down jobs as a location sound mixer and sound editor. I’ve been lucky enough to rack up a handful of festival credits: I did the production sound for the only American short to get into Cannes in 2005 (“Missing” by Kit Hui), and more recently I did the post-production sound mix for a short film called “Predisposed” by Philip Dorling that went to the Woodstock and Sundance film festivals.
That’s a long way from setting up a local radio station!
Here’s the connection: A few years ago, I started Brooklyn Movie Labs to teach people the technical side of digital filmmaking. One day I realized that between buying equipment, maintaining my infrastructure, and surviving the Great Recession, I could afford to give people a really high-quality education, but I couldn’t afford to advertise! I started thinking about inexpensive ways to talk to lots of people simultaneously. WRFB is what I came up with: once a week, some friends and I would spin some music we like, talk about local people and events we care about, and advertise Brooklyn Movie Labs. So I hacked together a broadcast console at my StageOne studio in Bed-Stuy and started making phone calls.
But why radio, specifically?
I’ve always had kind of a love affair with radio. When I was very young, I received an AM radio as a present one Christmas, and that became my “night-light”—I would go to sleep every night listening to it. For some reason—maybe the reception was best on that frequency—I always kept it tuned to 1050, which in the 70s was the home of New York’s country music station, WHN. So as I was coming up, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Charley Pride, Merle Haggard, and all those cats used to sing me to sleep.
In the 80s I got my first real stereo system and joined the mixtape masses. Back then you could hear a reggae tune, a rock tune, some New Wave, and R&B on the same station, and I loved it all. I felt like I couldn’t get enough music, like it was this liquid thing that I wanted to absorb through my ears, through my skin.
So, it was the music—
Yup. I was playing acoustic guitar and writing songs back then, but I knew that commercial music was some completely alien thing. You could bridge the gap if you got a record deal, but I had an inkling that that was like winning the lottery, or selling your soul, or both.
Then came the 90s and I realized that this was the beginning of the end of the separation between “real” media and what you created in your bedroom or your basement.
I think WRFB represents the point at which the software got good enough, the networks got deep enough, computers got fast enough, and I got desperate enough to just go for it!
Now that you’re into radio, how do you manage to run both film school and Radio Free Brooklyn?
One’s an offshoot of the other. They’re inseparable, and I love doing them both.
How many listeners do you estimate you have? What are your goals?
With May 4, our first official broadcast, we’re up to about 750 hits on the stream per night. For a guy whose previous adventures in radio covered about four city blocks, that’s a pretty cool number. Our goals? Lots more listeners. I want it to be something that people wait for every week the way they wait for an episode of “Treme” or “Breaking Bad” or whatever. I want people to have a little bit of that feeling I used to get when I listened to the radio back in the 80s. And if it helps me publicize Brooklyn Movie Labs and bring in more students, all the better.
In the short term, I’m planning to expand the broadcast schedule to two nights a week. Tuesdays will remain mostly music; Wednesday nights will be mostly news, culture, and politics; so I’m looking for interesting content to fill those slots now. No reason NPR should have all the fun!
Do you feel you’ve accomplished some of your goals?
Absolutely, I really wanted to make something that sounded like it came from a particular group of people who are from somewhere, who have a particular point of view and who like certain music, and who want to share that. I wanted to create something with a sense of connection between the broadcaster and the listener. From some of the feedback we’ve received, I think we’ve been successful so far.
What’s your team like to work with?
My favorite thing about WRFB is our volunteer crew: Christian Wikane, Rob Fields, and Shelley Nicole. They’re incredibly knowledgeable about music and musicians (Shelley is one herself), they’re fun to be around, they have great ideas, and they have deep networks with tons of connections. Thanks to them we’ve had some dynamite shows and some really cool on-air interviews—Nona Hendryx and Ruth Pointer to name just a couple. I always learn something from listening to them talk about the music they’re spinning. They make the difference between the station being just some geeky side project and it being a real “thing.” And every Tuesday, Shelley signs us off with the National Anthem—the Jimi Hendrix version. How cool is that?
Depends on what mood I’m in. I’ve always been big on singer-songwriters, and Brooklyn has some great ones: Ganessa James, Diane Cluck, Maritri Garrett, Will Scott, Jan Bell…
I’m also digging this guy Adam Arcuragi right now, Neko Case, Laura Veirs, The Cave Singers. Mark Anthony Thompson of Chocolate Genius is a perennial favorite of mine. The Soulfolk Experience, which is headed up by Maritri Garrett. There’s this rock band called I Love Monsters, which my friend Jeff Jeudy plays in. Coulon, which is this acoustic soul trio based right here in Bed-Stuy. Just a lot of great music happening right now (exactly none of which you can hear on commercial radio).
Have any words for the WG readership?
I love working with people who have something to say and want to expand into radio—so Brooklyn-based bloggers, podcasters, ‘ziners, et cetera, should definitely get in touch. I’m also interested in shouting out and giving a platform to independent filmmakers, musicians, visual artists, circuit benders, whoever—if you’re doing something you think is interesting, get in touch with us and maybe we can help you elevate your profile. We’re also really interested in doing streaming broadcasts of live shows, and StageOne is fully equipped to do it—we have a full PA system with a back line in addition to our broadcast gear, so musicians (especially unsigned musicians) who’d like to get some live radio play should give a shout and send us some links. And of course, if folks just want to take one of our film workshops on sound, or camera, or editing, that would be great too!
Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. StageOne, our broadcast headquarters, is at 449 Nostrand Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11216.
Interview with Tariq Abdus-Sabur of Newtown Radio newtownradio.com
WG: How did you get into radio?
TA: In a word—music. There are three of us (myself and Mark Brinda—co-founders—and Colin Ilgen) who really run the station day to day. None of us has a background in radio. We all just really like the music that is coming out of Brooklyn these days and felt like this community lacks a voice in the world of radio.
How long has Newtown Radio been on the “air”?
We just came up with the idea last September. We didn’t have an official launch until March.
How many listeners do you figure you have?
We estimate a couple hundred listeners a day at this point—sometimes more when we have special guests or an event. It’s just been an organic, word of mouth thing so far. We’re cool with that.
What are your goals for the station?
I think we just want it to be known as a place where people can go to hear good music without having to search around on a blog or buy satellite radio.
What’s unique about Newtown Radio?
So far as we know, there’s nothing else out there like us. We play local bands, new indie stuff from all over, and cool classic stuff—but we air music in a bunch of different ways. We’re attending live shows all over the neighborhood and broadcasting them on our site. Bands and DJs come in to play special sets in our studio. We have about 20 regular DJs that host shows where they define the format, they pick the guests…very much like college radio. Then we have our library of music that is playing the rest of the time, just like a traditional FM station.
What do you personally like best about running the station?
Getting to connect with so many really fun and talented people. All of us have really enjoyed meeting so many new people and being exposed to so much great new music.
Well, right now, we’ve been pretty hot for Pill Wonder. They’re on Underwater Peoples and we totally <3 Underwater Peoples. Total Slacker and Beach Fossils have been really, really good to us also…double big ups to those guys.
When you think that none of us knew what we were doing at the beginning and now we’ve got some pretty rad shows coming up — Blissed Out, Truman Peyote, Ava Luna, it’s awesome. We’re going to relaunch our blog and develop an iPhone application. It’s a little crazy that things are happening this fast, but it’s great.
Do you have ads? Is it all volunteer?
No ads, it’s all volunteer. Well, except for our web guy and our tech guy—we have to pay them. To cover our costs, we just put on shows. That’s what makes us happy.