Yesterday morning I was taking a stroll through San Francisco’s Mission District when I spotted signage for RBMA Radio on a shop window. Intrigued, I crossed the street and wandered in to Dijitalfix to find out what was going on. In a corner of the funky audio store, bordered by a window facing busy Valencia Street, a vacant pop-up radio station was set up and awaiting its roster of afternoon DJs.
Signage and a stack of schedules clued me in to the fact that I happened to stumble across this temporary radio station on the last day of its 15-day run. I peeked in to the studio and also spotted Polaroids of some familiar folks who had popped by the station, including a community radio DJ friend. Intrigued, I came back a few hours later in order to catch some of the live broadcast.
When I returned to RBMA Radio just before 4pm, the station was in full swing and its hosts, producers, and DJs were preparing to transition from one program to the next. An experimental metal label, Flenser Records, had been the focus on the 3pm hour and legendary club DJ Doc Martin was on the decks preparing to spin music and chat starting at 4pm. In the midst of it all, I was able to speak to two of the station’s hosts and producers, Shawn Reynaldo and Vivian Host, and they filled me in on the details about RBMA Radio.
A project of the Red Bull Music Academy, RBMA Radio is a streaming radio station that’s been around for a decade as an on-demand station (it’s still on-demand in Europe), but just recently kicked off its new life in the United States as a streaming station with the 15-day pop up event in San Francisco. Host told me that the plan was for RBMA Radio to have one main channel, as well as an array of genre-specific sub-channels. The current offerings include “Heads and Tales” (interviews), “On Stage” (live performances), “Beat Suite” (hip hop, R&B), “Club Electric” (beats, electronic music), “In My House” (house music), and “Really Strange Music” (avant-garde, experimental, drone, etc.).
I didn’t know much about the Red Bull Music Academy, but Host gave me a nice run-down of its activities. The separate division of Red Bull runs an annual music academy for which it hand picks young musicians for an intensive training program.
According to its website,
Two groups of 30 selected participants – producers, vocalists, DJs, instrumentalists and all-round musical mavericks from around the world – come together in a new city each year for two weeks worth of recording sessions, lectures by musical luminaries, collaborations and performances in the city’s best clubs and music halls…The Academy began back in 1998, and has been traversing the globe since: from Berlin to Cape Town, São Paulo, Barcelona, London, Toronto, New York and beyond. In 2015, the Academy is being held in Paris, France.”
In addition to the academy’s workshops, it also produces RBMA Radio as well as an online magazine. The radio station plays a range of material, including “interviews, mixes, feature documentaries, artist-curated playlists, and live recordings from some of the best festivals and clubs in the world,” according to the Red Bull Music Academy website. Host explained that since many prominent artists and musicians come through the academy, interviews with them are often featured on RBMA Radio.
Reynaldo and Host have San Francisco radio connections, having both worked in college radio at KALX-FM and in commercial radio at Live 105 (where they did the Subsonic show). Hired by RBMA Radio to help set up the temporary San Francisco station, they worked to program it, as well as produce and host various segments.
During its two week run, RBMA Radio San Francisco broadcast live from from 2pm to 10pm daily. The small studio was outfitted with turntables, microphones, mixers, computers, and even a couple of cassette decks. The lightweight walls and door were funky, but as a I found out, they weren’t necessarily soundproofed. A few folks chatting right next to the studio walls were asked to move, as they could be heard in the booth. On the flip side, during the broadcasts, passersby and shoppers could listen in via speakers in the store and on the street.
Following the San Francisco pop-up, RBMA Radio will be heading to Miami later this month to do a live broadcast during Miami Music Week and the Winter Music Conference. Host told me that it’s exciting to do these pop-ups in various places as it gives “access to different people” in each city. She said that the live broadcasts have been fun in that guests and hosts have been hanging out and connecting over music. As an example of that, she told me that musician Tommy Guerrero came by to spin records and that following that some folks from Groove Merchant Records were in the studio, which prompted Guerrero to hang out even longer in order to check out their set. Host said, “that’s the ideal scenario” and added that the guests in San Francisco were “all over the map” and included “experimental electronic” artists, rappers and producers, as well as local club DJs.
A peek at the RBMA Radio schedule in San Francisco included programming from record stores and labels (Superior Viaduct, Aquarius, Amoeba, Vinyl Dreams, Slumberland, and Dark Entries) as well as an array of artists and DJs, including Maggi Payne, Dose One, Robert Rich, Wobbly, Holly Herndon, Dan the Automator, Wooden Shjips, DJ Stef, and Greg Ashley. Additionally, the station did some broadcasts from venues in San Francisco, including the End Up on the station’s closing night.
I was intrigued to hear about RBMA’s more experimental music focus, as that’s also the orientation of the station where I DJ and volunteer (KFJC-FM). She said that RBMA is “trying to highlight…pioneers in their genre” with an emphasis on people who are “left of center” or “special” in some way. She joked that the staff is comprised of a bunch of “music nerds.”
The RBMA offices also have radio studios in New York and Los Angeles and they have done some live radio events in the past from festivals. I asked if they’d ever partnered with local radio stations (in part because I knew that the temporary RBMA pop-up in San Francisco was within a few blocks of two other streaming radio stations) and Host mentioned that they had partnered with a station in Tokyo during last year’s RBMA in Japan and that they had also done some projects with East Village Radio and Dub Lab.
Thanks so much to the RBMA Radio crew for the inside scoop on the San Francisco station and for allowing me to pop in during yesterday’s live broadcast. Some of the San Francisco programming will stream again on the station’s website, so check back if there are shows that you want to hear again (I’d love to catch the Bay Area Rap History special that ran a few days ago).
This was an unexpected addition to my Spinning Indie Radio Station Field Trip series (my 79th visit, for those keeping track), so watch this space for more reports from my recent radio station visits in Kentucky. See my most recent field trips on Radio Survivor and see all of my station field trips on Spinning Indie.
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