In 2010, if you want to help promote the bands you love, you tweet about them. If you're old-school, you blog about them. Or if you're three guys who are nostalgic for the days when discovering good music didn't take so much work, you start a radio station. As we write this, we're listening to the Beastie Boys' "Break" streaming over at NewtownRadio.com, the recently launched Internet radio station that wears its support of Brooklyn—both its music scene and its environmental causes—on its metaphorical sleeve. For that, we gave them a "Best of Brooklyn" shout-out, then we stopped by their studio in Bushwick to ask co-founder Mark Brinda what exactly he was thinking, starting a radio station in 2010.
The L Magazine: I imagine you've been asked this a bunch, but can you talk a little bit about how this whole thing started?
Mark Brinda: To go all the way back, I have a day job, and I was just kind of stressing out, not feeling very happy or fulfilled with my life, so I took some time off to re-evaluate my situation and thought, "I like music, I go to shows all the time. Wait a minute—I grew up with radio, radio can be a really good format â€˜cause you don't have to work very hard to find great music, unlike reading blogs. There should be a radio station that doesn't suck in New York."
The L: So when you come up with the idea to start a radio station, what was the first step toward making it happen?
MB: Well, we didn't know anything about radio, at all, so the first step was to buy a computer. We figured a computer would be an important component of an Internet radio station. The night the three of us sort of sealed the deal and made it official, the next morning we got up and went to Best Buy and bought that laptop (points to laptop). It was like, "We're in it! Here's the credit card." We didn't really know what we were doing. We knew we needed it, so we spent a lot of time thinking about a name, and we were like, "We should actually do something good with this," so [raising awareness about Newton Creek] is a big part of what we're trying to do as well.
The L: In terms of trying to clean it up?
MB: Yeah, yeah, yeah. The Newtown Creek Alliance is an organization that does a lot of work. They've gotten tens of millions of dollars in grants for efforts to clean up the creek. It's going to get better. It's such a disaster. It's so sad that it's such a mess.
The L: Not to get all nostalgic, but SPIN's celebrating their 25th anniversary this week. I sort of had a moment today where I realized that between SPIN and the one independently owned radio station in Columbus, Ohio, that's how I found out about music growing up. That was it. I realized how much I missed the radio. What is it about the medium that struck a chord with you guys?
MB: It's easy. It's like the difference between watching TV and reading a book. Sometimes, I want to proactively look for music, but sometimes I just want to sit and have someone else play it. The fact that it's live is kind of neat. Blogs you can script and sculpt, but here it's like, "Oh fuck, we're still on the air. Shit." Goofy, fun stuff happens that you wouldn't be able to catch otherwise.
The L: What have been some of the biggest challenges so far?
MB: I think now the biggest challenge is, without blowing a bunch of money on PR, how do we get the word out? I think what we're getting comfortable with is "let's make some money to pay the bills by doing a live show series once a month, put all of our collective might into the promotion, and then hopefully make enough to cover the costs of the station." Then I'm ok with it just taking its time to get out there. I feel like the foundation is there, and we just need someone to notice. It takes time.
The L: There seems to be a focus on Brooklyn bands. Is that an intentional thing or is that something that just comes through because of where you are?
MB: It's definitely part of the mission. I mean, we don't want to be exclusively that, but we do over-rotate towards that. One of the big ways we find music to put into our library, which is playing about 50 percent of the time, is though looking at concert calendars and our friends who blog and looking at who they're into. It's through our own network that we find things, and, you know, the best music coming out right now is from around here.
The L: Given that this is the "Best of Brooklyn" issue, what's your favorite venue in the city?
MB: Well, you know, we should all shed a tear for the Market Hotel. We did get to broadcast a show there, that was pretty cool—Teengirl Fantasy, Beach Fossils, Neon Indian and Blissed Out. I think the Rock Yard space is my new favorite venue. It's pretty awesome.
The L: In a year from now, where would you like Newtown Radio to be? What would be your ideal situation?
MB: Well, I would like for us to have 10 to 100 times more listeners per day. I'd like to have money coming in to cover a majority, if not all, the costs from the show series. I'd like to continue getting more bands on the air to help expose to the world. And I'd like to have a blog that's functioning. We're about to re-launch our blog, actually. Right now, it's an embarrassment to the blogging community, but we have an awesome, new, completely different format.
The L: Are there any stations, in New York or elsewhere, that you really admire?
MB: WFMU. The obvious ones. You know, they're great at what they do. I want to be different from them in that we'll always have a portion of the day just playing our library so that you know you can tune in and odds are good that it's going to be this format of music, and if it's not, then it's going to be one of a number of shows that hopefully you like, whereas if it's 100 percent eclectic mishmash, you don't know if you're going to tune into the folk show, or a talk show, or the banjo show. We definitely have our share of "eclectica," but it hangs together by our library.
The L: What songs do you have playing in heavy rotation?
MB: Well, I'm actually going to update it today, but right now we've got a Future Islands song, the Drums' Electric Tickle Machine and a song by Woven Bones.
The L: Have you run into any legal issues, as far as all the copyright stuff goes?
MB: We pay Live365 to host the stream—that little player in the corner of our website. We pay them, and they pay licensing fees to all the ASCAPs, BMIs, etc., so it's actually legit. It's legit! (leans into recorder) That was pretty important to us.
The L: Fifteen years from now, do you think radio will still be around? Not talking satellite radio or online radio, but honest-to-goodness, through-the-air-waves sations?
MB: Terrestrial radio? Fifteen years? Yeah, I think so.
The L: How about 20 years then?
MB: Twenty, 30, longer termâ€¦ no, I don't think so. The real divider will be when wireless Internet is pervasive enough and reliable enough to be everywhere. Then why would you send satellites into space? I think that mode of broadcasting will die.
The L: So, now you have to tell me who the best band in all of New York is.
MB: I would say Small Black. I don't think they're revolutionizing the music world, but they're solid. Best non-NYC band is called Coyote Clean Up out of Detroit. Sort of dreamy, synthy. But there are actual lyrics, and it's not totally fuzzed out.