Let’s face it. Mainstream radio is rubbish, isn’t it? Commercial radio is like an iPod on shuffle, but with only 10 songs of the same genre interspersed with ads. There are public broadcasters who are a little more interesting, certainly with the odd entertaining DJ, but they are still scared of not being “down with the kids” or of only playing well-known oldies.
The situation is saved, though, by a host of largely unpaid heroes on the internet. This is by no means an exhaustive list but those heroes include:
Keith Newman, Punky Paul and Lisa Etherton – two smutty, 50-year-old teenagers and a sex therapist, masquerading as “New Wave with Newman” on Radio Northumberland.
Diego RJ, or El Sotano who has a national, drive time FM show in Spain playing punk, power pop and garage.
Stephen Doyle on Salford City Radio, Gary Crowley on BBC Radio London and Soho Radio, Paula Frost at Way Out Radio, Mike Rogers with his Tokyo breakfast show on acid, Dave Renegade, Danny Mac, The Alternative Aycliffe Punk Radio Show ………… the list goes on and I apologise if I’ve left you off, there are so many of you. All of these presenters have a passion for music and a particular taste which makes the listener feel they are listening to a curator who loves what they play, rather than an ego with a playlist. They are, however, islands on their particular stations, isolated hours on say a Monday evening or a Tuesday afternoon.
But in Jersey City there is a whole FM radio station, funded by its listeners so it has no ads and therefore no pressure to deliver particular listener demographics and where the DJs just play whatever they like. WFMU can be heard across the whole of New York, a large part of New Jersey and online here.
And what a weird mixture it is. A bit like having a whole station of John Peels. And, like that long missed purveyor of the obscure, parts of it are unlistenable. But much of it is exciting especially if, like me, you seek good new music.
It was the saturday afternoon presenter Todd-o-phonic Todd who made our recent shows on the East Coast possible and we played a set on Evan “Funk” Davies’ Wednesday evening show. Both of these fellas have impeccable taste and are afficianados of glam, punk, garage and power pop.
Underneath the station they have a fine venue, Monty Hall, which, like the radio station, is staffed by volunteers. It has no liquor licence so people bring their own beer and as part of the service they film the whole show, edit and mix it to a professional standard and give a copy to the band. That is worth thousands of dollars to those who play there.
Here’s a couple of excerpts from our show:
So, long may WFMU continue, a bastion of the weird and individual in this increasingly uniform and corporate media world.
PS: There is a footnote to our show at Monty Hall.
The traffic from Manhatten to Jersey City is horrific. About 10 roads converge into 2 lanes as you approach the Holland Tunnel to pass under the Hudson to New Jersey in a frustrating and nervewracking crawl, hoping against hope that you’ll move forward more in the next hour than the 400 metres you managed in the last. Cops with improbably large backsides lurk as you approach junctions, happily awarding you a $100 dollar fine if you get caught inadvertently blocking the route of cars approaching in another direction. If you need to be in Jersey City at 7pm it makes sense to go there at 3pm when the traffic isn’t quite so voluminous.
So Sophie, myself and Camille Phillips (stepping in for Karen Jones who couldn’t make the trip) arrived in Jersey City at 4pm with a few hours to spare and headed for a local bar.
Without realising the effect we would have, we entered the establishment in V formation. Myself at the apex: purple/pink suit, red shoes, floral shirt. I was flanked by Sophie to my left: leather jacket, T shirt, long black hair, hot pants, black tights and Doc Martens, and to my right, Camille: leather jacket, tatoos, boots and chains.The bar fell silent. The security fellas checked the bulges in their inside, jacket pockets. From the party of older ladies having a birthday celebration in the corner we heard:
- “Check the pink guy!”.
- “What is he?”.
- “He’s a pimp!”.
- “No, he’s a gangster, stay out of his way”
- “He’s English”
- “They’re the worst”
We chose a table and sat down. A very kind waitress brought over some water and placed a glass in front of Camille. As a joke I said: “She’s not allowed that!”.
“I’m so sorry, I’m really, really sorry”, said the waitress,”I promise I won’t do it again”, quickly removing the offending item. “What is she allowed to have?”, “Scotch”, I said which arrived in approximately 30 seconds flat.
So, moral of the story: if you are a shortass wimp in New Jersey and want the respect of security guards, to strike fear into the hearts of matrons and lightening quick service from terrified waitresses, dress up in pink and get yourself a posse of striking looking women.
Works every time.