When I arrived at Velo, the bike shop on Dekalb Avenue in Bushwick, I was directed down a dimly lit staircase to the basement. In a small room, the only one not stocked to the gills with bicycle guts, I found Rob Prichard and Tom Tenney, creator/producers of Radio Free Brooklyn. They’ve outfitted the room, which they rent from Velo, with turntables, microphones, mixing boards and computers in the name of launching Brooklyn’s own 24/7 online radio station.
Both Prichard and Tenney used to manage performance spaces, but have been talking about launching an underground radio project for years. “I can’t afford the rent on my theater [Surf Reality], that’s why I don’t have it any more,” Prichard explained, “One day I just said to Tom, what if we had an internet radio station? We could create a place where artists can come together, they can do their own thing — it’ll be a community.” (If that concept seems familiar, East Village Radio is listed as one of the project’s inspirations.) With the rise of social media and the non-physical meeting place, both men see the station as a way to provide artists with a space to work out their ideas for an audience — without having to shell out for the privilege.
“We’re launching with 41 shows, this is why I’m in this room now, like, 24/7. Getting this all set up,” Tenney said, gesturing at the equipment, all of which he either owned already or recently purchased out of pocket. Tenney is the engineering brains behind the operation, while Prichard works on booking talent from their vast network of artists. The men have only been working on RFB since February and they’ve already had an overwhelming amount of show pitches. Some will be pre-recorded shows, but many will be broadcast live from the basement studio.
“A lot of them we know are reliable content producers,” Tenny explained, “In terms of the live shows — a lot of the people don’t have any experience in the studio. So they’re going to come in for training at the end of this week. There will be wonkiness, but we’ll try to fix things as we go along.” Rob nodded, “It’s not like we’re looking for perfection. We’re actually embracing struggle. The desire to communicate, the desire to express — how to reach across and find new ways of doing these things finding just sound.”
Because these men come out of the world of the artist’s process — of imperfection and responsive progress — they expect that some shows may not work and some will become successful. They’re looking for everything from talk shows to bedtime stories and soundscapes. Some shows, such as Lunch With Legs, have been operating independently for a while, but many are premiering through RFB. “This is more along the lines of what radio was meant to be before it became the commercial arm of the record industry,” Tenney said, “We want to do something different. We want to do something that uses the medium of audio in interesting, weird, funny, surprising ways.”
As the station finds its voice, Prichard envisions a “Marvel universe” of shows that talk to each other and reference one another. “One idea that we’re tossing around is to do a scavenger hunt across the city, with a prize, and different shows will have different clues. And maybe some characters will pop up, or some rituals will happen — or some ways of doing things that are unique to us — so you know that when you go to RFB, there’s a world there.”
RFB is accepting pitches on a rolling basis, though the first round of shows is capped at 41 as it’s been a lot of work to get everything curated by the launch date. You can submit your show or volunteer to help out on their website (note: they’re actively looking for radio plays). Things kick off on Wednesday, May 13, at 9 pm with a live broadcast launch party at Lucky 13 Saloon in Gowanus.