You’d be a fool to think that KPISS radio is some ramshackle operation. Sure, they might be tucked away in the far-back confines of Punk Alley– an assortment of shipping containers right along the Bushwick/ Bed-Stuy border where you’ll find a record store, used book purveyors, and even a mini-shop dedicated to paraphernalia from local punk bands. One by one, they’ve opened up over the last couple of years, joining maybe a dozen more smalltime vendors that were already there every day doin’ their thing, and about a year ago KPISS joined them. There’s no doubt that the KPISS.FM digs– a rectangular box with a couch and some turntables, mics, and other broadcast equipment behind a sheet of plexiglass– are pretty humble. “The last tenant was this guy who basically pissed all over the studio,” explained the station’s founder, Sheri Barclay. “No one would rent it, but I would. I called it KPISS in his honor.”
But KPISS is much more than a goldmine for excrement and golden shower jokes (get it? the online streaming radio station is a “golden stream”). It’s also a state of mind. “We take the ‘Piss’ out of community radio,” Sheri explained.
I was knee-deep interviewing people on the block about the K2 protest yesterday, when Sheri seemed to pop up out of nowhere. “Wanna come check out this radio station?” she asked, suddenly appearing at my side. Before I knew it, she’d pulled up the gate at her shipping container and led me into the studio’s Baker-Miller pink insides where I got the full KPISS treatment and, within ten minutes of our meeting, Sheri had me live on the air. Somehow we’d gone from strangers to host and guest locked in an interview, and Sheri didn’t miss a beat. The somewhat serendipitous series of events (er, at least I felt like our meeting was meant to be– I have my own very special relationship with the concept of “PISS,” since it’s forever tattooed on my knuckles) were a testament to the spirit of KPISS.
“We are one of those stations where you can just get away with anything,” she told me. “We do what we want here on KPISS, that’s the whole deal.”
That station broadcasts a whopping 56 live, ad-free shows that embrace everything from ecstatic, improvised moments like our own on-air interview, to late-night drunken lol-fests, and a whole lot of Paul McCartney’s “Temporary Secretary.” Sheri played me a clip from a series of interviews KPISS conducted with people around the neighborhood regarding the K2 crisis (two guys were sure that the cops were somehow privy to the sales). There’s even a DJ whose character is ostensibly trying to rebuild his career after it was destroyed by K2. “So we take these serious issues and just kind of fuck with them,” she said.
While there’s definitely a certain KPISS vibe, the hosts are a diverse bunch. “We have DJs, comedians, artists, citizen journalists, and also just frustrated executives who miss their college radio days,” Sheri explained. The station goes live on a daily basis and functions like a collective– members pay a monthly fee of $35 and get two hours a week to do their thing, in addition to open access in between sets. Eppies are archived in the form of podcasts, some of them even qualify as “Pisscasts.”
Because Sheri handpicks each member, to maintain that pretty consistent KPISS culture, though the station is super open when it comes to levels of experience. “I’ve had people who are veteran DJs and also people who are totally brand new,” she said.
Once members are properly trained, they’re basically given free reign. This lends to a NO FEAR sort of atmosphere, as KPISS doesn’t feel at all constrained by the norms of other radio stations, even fairly loose DIY operations like The Lot and Heritage Radio. “That’s something you can’t do at other stations, [where] you have to, like, sign in. This is an honor system, so if you do a show here, it means that we trust each other,” Sheri explained. “So if you wanna come in here and be drunk from 3 to 6 o’clock in the morning because you just threw the best party of your life and you’re really feeling it and you need to address that, you can do that at KPISS.” The founder herself will occasionally pop up on the waves: “I’m kind of the wild card, so you never know when I’m gonna come on.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean KPISS is solely about partying and being all whatever (you can’t smoke in the studio, for one). Still, there’s a distinct sense of subversiveness– something Sheri should know a thing or two about. After spending some time in Williamsburg in the early aughts, booking shows and hosting a “rock n’ roll night” at Black Betty, she said she got “a little burnt out” and took a break to return home to Canada. “I started a show on my university radio station,” she recalled. “I had too many hijinks so I eventually got banned from that station.” According to Sheri, her pranks included “giving away movie tickets to myself” on the air. “In Canada that’s what counts as scandalous,” she explained.
Eventually, she found a gig with American Apparel. “That’s when American Apparel was still cool,” she laughed. The brand gave her a syndicated show that was broadcast over loudspeaker at all of their domestic storefronts– she even collaborated on a t-shirt line with Am Appy.”I’m not really associated with the brand anymore, but I still do the occasional in-store promo, so if you go into American Apparel you’ll hear my voice saying, like, ‘Buy some socks,'” she explained.
Once Sheri wore that gig out, she put her time in working at a couple of internet radio operations and finally decided that it was time to return to New York and start her own station. “I moved back to the neighborhood, I saw this raw space, and I said, ‘Fuck it, let’s just do it,'” she remembered. She made the cut after a friend with “a little novelty shop on the corner” vouched for her. Thankfully, the Alley ended up being a perfect fit for KPISS. “I like it because it’s a very independent-minded community, so everyone minds their own business,” she said. “It’s not like a flea market where you kind of have to fit the code. Here, the code is, ‘Go fuck yourself.'”
Sheri warned that she’d be an “asshole” for comparing the Alley to “a Renaissance fair for New York punk in the ‘80s.” But instead of simply reenacting an idealized version of the past, the shop owners here are carrying on that punk ethos and creating their own scene. “It’s just that nobody wants to call it that or be an asshole, they’re genuine,” she explained. Actually, Sheri’s dead-on: what’s different about the Alley is that, aside from nearby spots like the Silent Barn, Palisades, and Molasses Books, newish business owners in Bushwick are more likely to exploit the underground than actually embody it.
But KPISS is also its own thing. Sheri reminded me that many of the people who participate at the station, members included, aren’t the Alley’s usual suspects. The same goes for their content, which is far from strictly punk music. “We try to be eclectic and we are, but if you turn the station on, you’re probably going to hear new wave, oldies, punk, country, and then a little bit of hip-hop here and there,” she explained. “We’re really all over the place.” Just a hand-grab away were indications of some rather disparate tastes– Sheri picked up the Urban Cowboy soundtrack and one super amazing piece of vinyl, The Young and the Restless theme, out of a crate, and pointed proudly to the vintage radio station signs depicting Blondie.
As quickly as I’d been invited inside and handed a mic, Sheri signed us off the waves. “You get a lot of freedom and ideas. It goes beyond saying whatever you want– I mean, anybody can do that on YouTube.”
Follow KPISS on Twitter and Facebook for updates. Or if you’d prefer to meet the KPISS crew in person, check out their anniversary party happening Sunday August 21, 6 pm at Bizarre, 12 Jefferson Street, Bushwick.