Over the weekend, a new radio station with a focus on the multifaceted New York City music scene entered what founder Francois Vaxelaire described as “beta mode.” The Lot Radio occupies a shipping container plopped on a lonesome triangular strip of land near the Williamsburg-Greenpoint border. Bound by a sulky chainlink fence that’s just 63 feet on its longest side, the lot looks like some cosmic accident at the awkward intersection of Nassau, Banker, and North 15th Streets, rather than a place where anything other than weeds ever grew. But since January, Francois has been visiting frequently, and even if things are not quite where he’d hoped they’d be by now, a handful of people came by on Sunday to turn on the equipment, hit record, and start digitally broadcasting. “It was more to test everything, to see if everything was working,” Francois explained. “It was.”
While The Lot Radio will likely be a “work in progress” through the rest of the winter (with occasional live broadcasts and archives coming soon) “the radio,” according to Francois, “is officially open.” Over the next few months, he and his team are going to focus on filling out the schedule for their internet-only station and settling in. “We’re going to test everything, see who’s on board, kind of get to know each other, and try to create something,” Francois explained. “And hopefully by spring, the schedule of the radio will be full and we’ll have a proper public opening.”
Francois has been a Williamsburg resident for the last three years (and a New Yorker for the last five since moving from Belgium). Every day, he’d pass by this overgrown little lot on the walk to his office, where he works as a freelance photographer and videographer. (Full disclosure: we share a work space in Greenpoint.)
“It was super weird,” Francois recalled, “because there used to be an RV here and a guy living on it, but I was always curious about this place because I thought it was kind of magical.” One day, he noticed a “For Rent” sign hanging on the fence. Property records indicate someone under the guise of “Nassau Triangle LLC ” bought the property (formerly a Texaco gas station) in 2012 for $55,000, but it seems unlikely the buyer ever planned to develop the small piece of land– its awkward shape and remarkably bitty size have certainly preserved this strip from becoming a glassy condo.
Francois said that by now he’s forgotten the exact thought process that led him to founding The Lot Radio, but that given his interests it made sense. Though he doesn’t consider himself a musician, after moving to Brooklyn he threw himself into the local electronic music scene. But one thing seemed to be missing. In Europe, there were plenty of radio stations he listened to, like Red Light Radio in Amsterdam. “I was really inspired by them, but I didn’t find any equivalent in New York,” Francois explained. “I know there’s East Village Radio, and a lot of online radio, but I never found the one I would follow.” He figured why not make his own radio station.
And so Francois called up the landlord and arranged to rent the space. “I was like, ‘OK, it’ll be easy,'” he recalled with a laugh. “And then I discovered New York City regulations, and that was six months ago.” The process of approval has been so difficult because Francois’ project is an unusual hybrid. Hoping to find a way to set up a “self-sustaining” radio station– and one where they wouldn’t have to “find sponsors or have a brand taking us over, nothing like that”– Francois divided the shipping container in two. His initial idea of sharing the space with a food truck proved too complicated, so he decided to have a “super basic” takeaway coffee stand with espresso and pastries, profits from which will go directly to the radio station.
When I visited The Lot yesterday, the pop-up awnings were peeled open so the shipping container’s cutout windows had a clear view of the Manhattan skyline jutting abruptly out from the scrub of anonymous, washed-out industrial buildings. The apex of the plot points toward the Empire State Building in the distance. You can feel really small from this vantage point, in the way that a treehouse makes you feel small. (The place is truly an exercise in economy– it’s easy to picture the ghost of Bloomberg clucking around here approvingly.) There’s also that same feeling of hiding out in the open that you get with a treehouse, knowing that people are definitely passing by along Nassau without a clue that anyone, let alone a radio station, is inside. The yard still maintains a depressing winter scrub, but a shiny lock at the gate indicates something’s buzzing behind the fence.
Even after six months of slogging through the arcane, arduous process of permit acquisition, only a very small part of what Francois had envisioned for The Lot is in working order. The yellow espresso machine sat idle and a square cash setup was tucked away neatly on top. “Everything’s ready to go,” Francois pointed out. “Basically the coffee stand would fund the radio as a whole. We also applied for a beer and wine license to make it a bit more comfortable and be able to make a little bit more money on the side, just so we can have small events, create a bit more something than the radio,” Francois explained.
However, all of that seems far off at the moment. “We’re not there yet,” he said. According to Francois, various city agencies have been resistant to grant permits to The Lot (yep, even for serving glorified hot water) because “I’m not in any category, so they don’t like my project.”
Still, he said that no matter what the outcome, it was time to fire up The Lot and start broadcasting. The Lot is starting to build a small community of DJs and contributors including Lloydski (Lloyd Harris) of Tiki Disco and others. It will join other indie radio stations like Radio Free Brooklyn with a focus on local music and anything else successfully pitched by interesting contributors. “I want people to understand that I want other people to take over the radio– the DJs get it,” Francois explained. “I’m more like a supervisor of the project as a whole, but the radio will be the sum of everyone involved, and I want it to be diverse. I’m more connected to the electronic music scene– in a broad sense, not EDM– but I love every kind of music and I don’t want the radio to become a niche in techno. We’re trying to stay as broad as possible.”
Regardless of whether things are perfect now, Francois is confident The Lot will fall into place in the coming months. “We’re going to make it better along the way,” Francois insisted. “We’re not a startup or anything, we’re not going to say, ‘Hey, we have a perfect product, here it is, just consume it’– no, it’s more like a journey where everybody gets on board and we see where we go.”