D.J. Harris Smith spins on the turntables at EVR on First Ave.
Storefront radio streams on after F.C.C. clampdown
By David Katz
Walk south on the west side of First Ave. towards Houston St., and you are sure to notice a different kind of storefront: a functioning radio station, exposed to the street, where one can watch D.J.s spinning records or conducting live interviews, much the same way one used to watch Krispy Kreme donuts being churned out on 23rd St. or pie jockeys levitating dough through the windows of sundry pizzerias.
The storefront is home to East Village Radio, an alternate radio station available on the Web at www.eastvillageradio.com, and its as fascinating to listen to as it is to look at.
Founded by East Village restaurateur and music maven Frankie Prisinzano owner of Lil Frankies pizzeria EVR is intent on reclaiming contemporary radio from cretinous shock jocks, formulaic Clear Channel pablum, weak tea elevator music, prefab formats and OxyContinated right-wing ideologues. The station was launched in August of 2003, beaming a commercial free mix of music and commentary from an apartment above its current street level location on First Ave. The 30-watt signal, to be found at 88.1 on the FM dial, covered an area roughly from Avenue D to Lafayette St., and from 14th St. to Canal St., until an article in the New York Times brought the pirate operation to promptly the attention of the F.C.C., causing the agency to pull the plug on the station.
The letter arrived two weeks later, recalls Veronica Vasicka. So it was kind of doomed. Vasicka, along with Donielle McCary, directs programming for the station, which is designed to reflect the multi-ethnic, multicultural, nonconformist tradition of Loisaida and the East Village. After being shut down by the F.C.C, the station has continued on the Internet with streaming audio in a commercial-free alternate radio format.
The focus, according to Vasicka, who also doubles as a D.J. spinning minimal-electronic plus sides Sunday nights, is mainly cool music unavailable on mainstream stations.
We want to represent music that is not necessarily something you can buy at Tower Records; music that is more specific to certain cultures, certain areas, Vasicka says. Smaller independent labels, who are not into it for the money. To me its more interesting, because its not as salable. Some of our D.J.s are all over the place. A lot of them collect records and they really have a passion for music, all sorts, all genres of music, and from different countries. Theres a guy named Jack Blackfelt, on Sunday mornings, who actually spins old 78s; he collects them and he brings in a special record player to play them on. Then theres another guy named Jonathan Jacobs and his show is called the Vintage Jazz Show, and he plays incredible music.
And hes not the only one. Theres a huge amount of sound of all shapes and styles being sent out over EVR, from N.Y.C.-centric hip-hop, at NoHos Bored with D.J. Sonny Ray, D.J. Dialect and Long Division; to early electronic, electro, disco punk, and everything that is weird and funky, from DJTal on Electrobeef; to 70s punk, new wave, glam, hard rock, 60s garage, psych and soul, with Tom Dash on Dot Dash Radio.
For a change, the D.J.s are eccentric and eclectic. Disguising Depression, to cite but one example, hosted by Rufus, recently featured cuts from Louis Armstrong, Nick Drake, George Jones, Otis Redding and the great New York 80s band The Feelies, on the admittedly not-very-listened-to slot of Friday night from 10 p.m.-midnight; but his is just the tip of the tip of the iceberg. Listening to EVR provides an encyclopedic education in all forms and genres of modern and not-so-modern music. (Their entire schedule, including playlists, is posted on their Web site.)
Theres also a show called Know Your Rights that mixes music and politically edged commentary with news and reviews from the national and international press. And of course, a lot of the D.J.s naturally threw in their own political point of view, especially during the run-up to the election.
D.J.s pay $20 a month, though the rate is about to rise to $40 a month. However, there is now a plan for the D.J.s to get sponsors for their shows.
Another positive feature of EVR is its openness to the community. With the station on street level, theres naturally a lot of interaction with the public. Its changed the whole format. When it was upstairs it was removed from the public, Vasicka says. A lot of D.J.s are open to letting people come on the air, talk, make announcements. Vasicka also encourages would-be D.J.s to submit proposed playlists and formats. They have to send a sample set list, with content, and then a CD of what they would play. I really like when people present concept shows, shows that are really thought out. We have a Japanese show on Saturday night and they pretty much sent an outline of what they wanted to do, in like two sentences, and then they had a description of what it would entail and what one of those shows would be like for the listener. It was jazz, fused with Japanese pop music; it was really cool. And the girls were talking about how they would have four rotating personalities. It was really interesting, a nice approach.
Whats next? Hopefully, back to broadcasting.
The idea is to get our broadcast license and not just be limited to an online stream; and then have an L.P.F.M., Low-Power FM License, a smaller range and wattage broadcast station with a range from 42nd St. down to Battery Park, Vasicka says. But its hard because the F.C.C. has their application guidelines for applying for different kinds of licenses and theres a window that opens up about every two years when they accept applications, but they dont notify you as to when thats going to happen so you kind of have to be totally prepared.
And if that doesnt pan out, theres also the possibility of satellite radio, which would put EVRs off-the-wall crew of D.J.s up in the sky with Howard Stern, quite possibly giving the so-called King of All Media a definite run for his money.