During this strange time for all of us, I’ve noticed that many people I know are rediscovering old hobbies and rekindling interests from the past. For me, so many of my interests revolve around music. One thing I’ve been thinking a lot about is the shared experience that live radio provides. Artists have been filling the live show gap with some amazing livestreams (cataloged dutifully each day by Brooklyn Vegan) and Questlove and DJ D-Nice have been doing quarantine DJ sets. While I’m hoping the situation we’re all in clears up soon, I’m inspired by the outpouring of creativity and connection we’re all experiencing in this new way.
We’ve experienced an explosion of audio content with the incredible diversity of podcasts, but a key ingredient is missing in the “what you want when you want it” culture we’ve built: shared real-time experience. I think we’ve almost imperceptibly lost something in a world where we can all be individually and separately listening to an inexhaustible menu of audio content in our headphones. I’ve found that in the current situation, I miss the serendipity and diversity of live “freeform” radio. When I was a kid, there were dozens of small stations where I lived in eastern NC, with music done by a real DJ, call-in shows, live reporting, farm reports, and general community banter. There are still community stalwarts like the amazing WFMU but they are becoming more and more rare by the day.
Obscure radio stations of all kinds used to be an important part of our culture. In David Byrne’s excellent book How Music Works, he writes about how he came up with the lyrics for “Once in a Lifetime” (“you may ask yourself. . .same as it ever was. . . .”):
I was. . .drawing lyrical inspiration from the radio preachers I’d been listening to and that we’d used on the Bush of Ghosts record. At that time, American radio was a cauldron of impassioned voices—live preachers, talk-show hosts, and salesmen. The radio was shouting at you, pleading with you, and seducing you. You could also hear great salsa singers, as well as gospel being broadcast straight from the churches.
David Byrne goes on: “I don’t listen to the radio much anymore, though. There is still variety on some stations, but it’s mostly been homogenized, like so many other parts of our culture.”
This is the kind of radio I miss. So I decided to launch an Internet radio station that I’m calling Lockdown Radio. It’s a sporadic live-only “station” you can only listen to via the web at http://www.lockdownradio.net/ supported by a Twitter account (@lockdownradioBK) and a Google doc that I update with live show notes:
I did radio for a short period in my life and it was one of my all-time favorite experiences. Way back in ~1994, I had a Monday morning 2-5am radio show on WXDU, the Duke radio station in Durham, NC. I got my slot immediately *after* I graduated so I already had a “real job” in Raleigh. My shift was just after the hip-hop show (yes, there was a single show that focused on the genre) and when I arrived at the studio at 1:45am, I always felt like I was breaking up a fun party (which I kind of was). I would settle into my chair, open the windows to clear the smoke from the party, and put on some 90s indie rock. “Hello, this is Chad and I’m here from 2 to 5am. Here’s “Big Day Coming” off of Yo La Tengo’s latest album Painful” . . . said in the hushed tone one uses on Monday at 2am.)
The signal was so weak and the equipment so dated that I wasn’t completely sure when I was on the air (I certainly didn’t have enough listeners to validate) so sometimes I would put on a long song and go out to my decrepit 1976 Buick Regal to put the key in the ignition and find 88.7 on the dial. If I heard the music, we were good and I would go back up to finish my show. I would occasionally get a call in the station and, while they were extremely rare, every one of them was extremely weird.
This is the spirit behind Lockdown Radio. It will be:
- kind of a hassle to listen to, like a small local AM station in the mountains (seriously lacking in sleek integrations with modern apps)
- sporadic (maybe you’ll get the “signal,” maybe you won’t)
- unpredictable (no algorithms, no defined schedule)
- listened to by very few and at times no one (a difficult concept to grasp in the current attention economy)
- eclectic. See the show notes for what I’ve done so far. I’m trying to do either original content or pull interesting material from the Internet Archive’s audio collection (which has some SERIOUS gems, like a bootleg of the Sex Pistols’ first US show, which I featured in my first broadcast)
I hope all three of you who listen to it enjoy it. In a world obsessed with likes, hearts, and scale, it’s freeing to ignore all of that and just see what happens. I’ve only been fooling around with it for a few days and it’s a lot of fun. Apologies in advance for any difficulties.