‘Everybody Says The City Is Dead.’ SF’s Internet Radio Stations Are Different

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Endless repetition of the same 40 songs, no skip buttons, a flood of ads that aren’t even tailored to your interests – terrestrial radio has a lot going for it.

What’s the point of flipping through FM stations in search of new tunes when you can fire up Spotify? Why scroll through the AM chart when you can pop in and out of your favorite podcast whenever you want?

Given all its shortcomings, many have written off radio as a deadly tool. However, for a dedicated community of local radio enthusiasts, the format is alive and well – it’s just moved online.

Resurrects Internet Radio Star

Amanda Guest fell in love with radio as a college student working at Salem State University’s WMWM station. But as deep as his respect for broadcasting is, he is well aware of its flaws.

“When you think about the landscape of terrestrial radio, there’s been this massive consolidation since the 1990s, where only a handful of companies own all the frequencies you can tune into,” Guest said, expressing frustration with the current state of radio. commercial radio. “That means there’s someone programming the station you’re listening to in Texas or somewhere in the Bay Area. You don’t really get that local flavor.”

Rather than turning his back on radio, the founder of San Francisco-based BFF.FM has spent the past decade reimagining it for the 21st century.

Guest and the staff at BFF.FM want to bring back the local flavor, extraordinary talent and deep knowledge that once made FM radio so fascinating to music lovers. Since launching the online station in 2013, he’s used his platform to champion DJs, bands and other local artists he believes aren’t getting the attention they deserve on commercial radio and other mainstream outlets. Others in the local internet radio ecosystem share his philosophy.

Co-founder Ryan Babasa tweaks the knobs on his mixing board during his live radio show “The Uncle Ryan” on Psyched! A radio studio in the Mission District of San Francisco, California on July 8, 2022. | Eloise Kelsey for The Standard

Dennis Mahklin and Luis Castillo, the 20-year-old founders of Hyde.FM, another local internet radio station, say their goal is to elevate the local arts community in San Francisco. Mahklin and Castilo continue to develop their creativity for veterans and newcomers to the Bay Area music scene and host broadcast shows, live concerts and more. created a space to showcase their local talent through

“We don’t just represent the city, we represent individuals.” Mahklin said. “They’re so talented and so great and they just don’t get the recognition they deserve. We want to be a stepping stone for people.”

The Struggle is Real

There are pros and cons to running a non-profit internet radio station. While stations like BFF.FM and Hyde.FM aren’t subject to advertisers like commercial radio, it’s often difficult to bring in enough money to cover costs.

Janelle Viera and Guillermo Goyri are the co-founders of Psyched Radio, which runs their program from a room above Thrillhouse Records on Mission Street in San Francisco. They said it was rewarding to start Psyched, but admitted they struggled to find ways to fund the project. Some money comes to the station in the form of charitable donations, but the founders often spend their own money to keep the lights on.

While Viera said he doesn’t want to continue paying out of pocket to keep his station running, he feels blessed to work with people willing to dip into their savings to support the project. “It shows us how much the people involved love it,” he said.

Castillo and Mahklin can relate. Much of the equipment and furniture in their workshop was donated. One of their mentors gave them a turntable, the speakers came from Castillo’s college dorm, and the stools they sat on were bought secondhand on Facebook Marketplace. They shared a laugh as they discussed the enhanced nature of their operation.

Although Hyde.FM started with Castillo and Mahkley taking money out of their own wallets, it now benefits from financial sponsorship through Crossroads for the Arts, a nonprofit organization that supports artists in the Bay Area. But when asked if they receive personal income from the station, the two shake their heads.

“We never know how much money we have.” Castillo looks at Mahklin questioningly. He shrugs.

A complete love

Whether locals see him on the street or not, many recognize Aaron Axelsen’s distinctive vocal rasp. The former music director of Live 105 and later Alt 105.3 led the Bay Area’s long-running alternative music station for 25 years.

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In the spring of 2020, just over a year before switching formats and becoming Dave FM (part of the massive Audacy network) in October 2021, the radio station fired Axelsen. Now he serves as head of programming for Internet radio station Flood FM, where the former San Francisco DJ delivers the best of earth radio without all the corporate BS. That means knowledgeable and entertaining personalities who help curate playlists and introduce listeners to things they might never have found, even with the help of a music discovery algorithm.

Wayda Alvarez performs a live set for Hyde FM on August 15, 2022 in San Francisco, California. | Justin Katigbak for The Standard

“Personalities were a big part of FM radio in its heyday,” Axelsen said. “They would tell stories, create a narrative around songs, they would be your friends, your friends. You knew them.”

Another thing a local internet radio station can do that larger corporate stations and web-based platforms like Spotify can’t, Axelsen said, is tap into local identity and build a foothold in the community.

“He said something when he saw a Live 105 bumper sticker on a car,” Axelsen said. “It reflected your personality, your politics, your views. It was a badge.”

Internet radio stations like BFF.FM are eager to do the same. Guest has been a part of the San Francisco creative community for 10 years, but she said she’s still pleasantly surprised and excited when she discovers a new artist to share with her audience.

“Everybody says the city is dead,” Guest said. “And it’s undeniable that there are challenges living here. But there’s still a lot of incredibly creative stuff going on at the grassroots level. And I think that’s amazing.”

Mahklin shares this opinion. When asked to name his favorite thing about San Francisco, he immediately identified the community.

“There’s no other place where Hyde.FM can happen,” Mahklin said. “People are coming out to give support and words of encouragement. There’s just a lot of love.”

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