For this installment of our summer listening series, I’d like to suggest some radio website “stations” for your possible listening pleasure (Next time out, I’ll hit some podcasts worthy of your post beach/cabin-by-the-lake-journey-home listening).
In the interests of transparency, there’s something I should tell you. Online radio is of interest to me because I’m a radio host myself. To be specific, I’ve hosted a program of electronic/experimental/classical/ethnic, and improvised music for several decades on a listener-sponsored community radio station; I’ve done so long before the station went online (and we had to follow the Digital Millennium Copyright Act rules that arrived to play havoc with our options as a radio programmers). Some of my recommendations in this article are going to be personal ones — stations and programs I listen to myself, either because they’re in similar territory, or because they’re entirely orthogonal in a way that rescues me from programming in an online echo chamber. You can probably get an idea of the kind of program I, myself do (I basically try to put together a weekly radio show I myself would like to listen to on a quiet evening), and this should help to make things clear.
Since we're unpaid and enthusiastic volunteers and since the lion’s share of our station's operating expenses come from our listeners, it won’t surprise you to discover that they call us up while we’re on the air to ask what’s on, to seek more information about what they’re hearing, or – occasionally – to register their distress.
That relationship between those of us who are volunteer programmers and the persons who support us takes the place of the need for commercials, and also encourages us to try to win the trust of our listeners. No one tells me what to play, ever. In addition, building those relationships with listeners also lets us depart from the kind of microgenre-focused narrowcasting that marks satellite stations; if you have the trust of your audience, venturing afield is going to be what you’re expected to do. My belief in that state of affairs will probably explain why this article is going to be heavy on community radio stations; for me, they’re the best bang for the listening buck in terms of diversity and transparency. Okay. Let’s get down to it!
My regular go-to stations
One of the most common questions I get from listeners is a simple one: “You’re on the radio every week. What do you listen to?” That’s a question I could ask each and every one of you in the Max community as music makers, as well. We’re all always on the lookout for advice from people whose work and interests we trust and share. Here’s my personal short list:
WFMU in East Orange, New Jersey is my gold standard for astounding free-form programming. And I don’t mean “Skrillex and three people who sort of sound like him,” either. The shows here are hard core no-holds-barred sequences of genre-jumping playlists by women and men with an encyclopedic rolodex of the noise of this age. If you’re accustomed to more narrowly focused stuff, it might be rough sledding. But this one absolutely tops out my “high surprise quotient” listing... Sinatra to acoustic Nordic metal to Saharan Cellphone serenades to recordings out the window of a train passing through Helsinki-type surprise.
On the US left coast, soma fm does a great job of well-curated, if more narrowly curated programming. While your favorite program might be composed primarily of ambient work (although my personal fave is the ambient music interleaved with San Francisco public safety radio chatter show), what's there will be broad and unfailingly well curated. Whether your tastes run to lounge music, metal, covers, Nordic-flavored Jazz variants, or cowboy songs, it’s the thinking person’s genrecasting.
It’s hard to believe that London’s community radio station ResonanceFM has been on the air for a decade — instead of settling into a comfortable middle age, their mix of interesting programing (you might find Adventures in Sound and Music from the folks who publish The Wire to your liking) radical politics and documentaries to be just the change you need.
And you can now check out their new sister station extra.resonance.fm, whose programming departs from there.
Along those same lines, NTS Radio in the UK is of similar age, but takes a little different approach – guest DJs (Autechre’s NTS Sessions release was, in fact, a record of their stint as guest DJs on the station a while back) along with shows from from the London Café Oto venue, and a wide range of programmers.
We owe the “futurist” (that term sounds a little quaint these days) Alvin Toffler a word of thanks for minting the term prosumer back in the day to describe persons who both consume and produce stuff. I expect that this describes pretty much everyone in the Max user community. While it’s not hard to imagine that the ranks of programmers on any number of the shows listed above are musicians themselves, it’s often the case that they seldom decloak (the only music I never play on my radio program is my own, as a case in point). That said, there are some interesting humble broadcasting initiatives out there where the programmers explicitly identify themselves as makers, and you’re often likely to hear them performing in real time alongside the works they curate. I particularly enjoy radiospiral whose hosts choose and perform carefully with personas in Second Life, their own Discord server, and the usual online hangout. Radiospiral calved off of Stillstream several years back, and has quietly created an interesting and varied set of ambient/electronic possibilities.
A little closer to home
I’ll usually choose my online radio listening so that it’s somewhat afield from the work I normally program, but sometimes it’s worthwhile to check out what your colleagues who program a little closer to your playlist home are up to. (It’s the reason that I turn on the radio when I’m home from the station to catch The Weekly World Noise on my own radio station, for example.)
Here’s my heavy overlap station listing of choice:
It’s been around even longer than I’ve been on the air, but John Schaefer’s New Sounds program remains just that, after all these years — really well curated classical, experimental, and world music dispensed with style and grace (great in-studio broadcasts, too).
As many of you know, I’ve spent a lot of time in the Netherlands over the years and, while I try to avoid it, there are just some circumstances in which raving about Dutch stuff is entirely proper.
On the edges of what I program, radio WORM in Rotterdam was one of my one-stop all avant-garde radio programming destinations, full stop – until it ceased broadcasting about a decade ago. (Great record store at their headquarters, by the way.) The great news is that it’s back, and better than ever.
The Concertzender has been a long-running source of music in the Netherlands for fans of classical, jazz, early music, and so on. While their contemporary classical programming is some of the finest you’ll find anywhere, they also quietly broadcast one of the finest, most diverse, and focused monthly ambient music programs I know of: Dreamscenes.
And finally, for similarly well-curated and well-focused ambient work, there’s always Fluid Radio, which is likely to deliver work to you that you know, and work at the edges of your enthusiasms. They’ve grown into a recording label who tend to be on my “buy this in hardback” list, as well. Trying to create some music worthy of release there is on my personal bucket list….
Last time out, I enlivened my litany of site recordings and number stations used by global intelligence sources (although I forgot to name check Abdelian, who stream Very Low Frequency [VLF] pops, whistles, and cracks from atmospheric and ionospheric disturbances from remote sites) with radio.garden – a fantastic website that turned what you know from messing with Google Earth into a spelunking trip across the globe, grabbing live broadcasts from stations all over the globe as you go.
I didn’t include radio.garden because I was worried that you’d find listening to undersea recordings from Antarctica worth you time, but because I use the darned thing when I want to relax and unwind. If you’ve tried it yourself, you’ll know what I mean. I’d like to end with some radio stations found along the way, and I hope you might suggest sites/stations of your own. I won't spoil the surprise for you — I'll list 'em by where in the world they broadcast from:
Radio Carbono (Argentina) Radio Punctum (Czech Republic) Radio Ma3azef (Egypt) Efferalgang Radio (France) Movement Radio (Greece) Lahmacum Radio (Hungary) Boxout FM (India) Paddygrooves (Indonesia) Seoul Community Radio (Korea) Vers Libre (Norway) radio.syg.ma (Russia) Pan African Space Station (South Africa) Radio MACBA (Spain) Root Radio (Turkey)
See you next time, and listen up!