By Ashley Zimmerman
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By John Hood
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By David Von Bader
By Sayre Berman
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It's the Fourth of July, and Hollywood native Mr. Entertainment is celebrating the First Amendment in front of two turntables and a microphone. He's broadcasting live from inside a pine-paneled closet-cum-DJ booth, and the records he's spinning suggest a central theme.
"Many songs tonight have to do with pussy," he explains to listeners, who might have missed earlier plays of Parliament's "Chocolate City," IceT's "Let's Get Buck Naked and Fuck," and Lenny Bruce's cymbal-banging monologue "Come." "It's freedom day," Mr. Entertainment announces calmly. "We're free to do anything we want, so that's what I'm doing. Tonight is about songs you're not allowed to play on the radio."
But this isn't an FCC-muzzled radio station. It's EyeQRadio (www.eyeqradio.com), one of the few Internet-only radio stations Webcasting out of South Florida. Because the station is strictly online, its content is ignored by the gimlet eye of the FCC, the Big Brother monitor of all interstate and international radio communications that ensures no one says pussy on the radio without the subsequent cat. This lack of censorship frees EyeQRadio to say and play whatever it wants. Maybe that's why it's the only radio station on the planet with a moratorium on playing Celine Dion and other FM horrors.
Fortunately EyeQRadio slaps down a cyberspace welcome mat for everything else: Frank Zappa at the Filmore, midcentury prison and work songs recorded at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, Devo, dance hall music, Middle Eastern chants, and even -- gasp! -- live and recorded local music. Fact is, David Chaskes, cofounder of EyeQRadio, cites local bands as paramount in his decision to pursue a kind of radio programming that can loosely be described as aural buffet meets flagrante delicto.
"The reason this station's here is because there's so much good music bubbling out of South Florida; it was just a matter of time before somebody put the hardware and pipelines in place to let that good music out," says Chaskes, a video editor and producer who also gigs as bassist for local rockers Dharma Bomb.
Ensconced in a one-bedroom walkup in North Miami Beach, EyeQRadio's Web page incorporates real-audio streaming, a technology that basically allows anyone visiting any Website to receive audio (or video) in real time instead of waiting for entire files to download. To tune in, all a visitor needs is a multimedia computer, access to the Internet, a RealPlayer program, and a click-happy finger.
The station birthed its 24-hour-live-programming format on June 15, but the idea behind the sound came in May, a scant day after Chaskes' production company moved into the walkup already inhabited by a brethren Web-only station, the Womb (www.thewomb.com). Pioneers in their own right, the Womb's creators began busting out block beats and other modes of electronica in 1996. Last year the FCC shut down the pirate radio station, and the Womb became online-only.
"I thought that here in South Florida, we could create another portal for music. The idea was always around, and suddenly the hardware was surrounding me," Chaskes says. He offered to swap half of the rent and utilities for a portion of the Womb's bandwidth and then turned to Hollywood resident and local radio guru Steve Alvin for help in developing the station's artistic vision and snagging groovy local DJs.
"It just happens. People just come and start working beside me," says Alvin, a.k.a. the Beast, who has been titillating local audiences with his irreverent radio shows since 1985 on stations like WDNA-FM (89.9), WAXY-AM (790), and more recently at slipstreampresents.com. Along with his penchant for tie-dyed Tshirts, Merit Ultra Lights, and a furious desire to help create uncensored radio programming, Alvin was brought on board by Chaskes. "When it comes to radio, he's a teacher. He's my teacher. It's where he belongs," says Chaskes.
Faster than you could flip off the FCC, Alvin assembled a collage of DJs, his only prerequisites being that they had their arms in the local music scene "up to here," he motions, clamping his right hand on his left bicep. "Most of them I know; I've worked with them in one way or another over the years. And I trust them. We don't want to bring people in that are not there for our cause. These are people who believe in what we believe in."
What EyeQRadio chants as its principal mantra is the word live. The station trumpets ten hours a day of live programming, unlike many other Internet-only radio stations that are typically one-man bands and don't have the people resources to meet the demands of live-radio format. EyeQRadio features real artists inside the booth making creative choices instead of a computerized carousel droning market-popular CDs.
"There's nothing necessarily interesting about that," says Chaskes. "The DJs here are free to be pioneers. They're not going to have a marketing executive knocking on the door saying, 'Hey! That content's not appropriate for the advertisers.'"
Good thing. Otherwise, listeners might miss out on Squid McKay's regular Sunday-night slot, Radio the Way It Could Be. The show bills itself as "sonic theater" and features, among other sequences, McKay crooning improvisational narratives about the natural world. He recently riffed on the habitats of mosquitoes and the flight of great blue herons over a backdrop of ethereal, slow-rolling horns and flutes. "You'll note the velvet-lined curtains," he whispered. "Just push them aside. Don't fail to notice the faint smell of hard-boiled eggs."
Visitors to EyeQRadio's Website can expect to hear further delightful acoustic hodgepodge, including comedy, interviews, and performances by visiting musicians. All of EyeQRadio's shows are listed and religiously updated on its Website. The site, which sports a discombobulated eye as its logo, also touts technical support (with a handy RealPlayer icon available for immediate downloading), contact information, an announcement site for upcoming events, and related links so that local musicians can promote recordings and merchandise.
"We play local bands; we give them dignity," says Alvin. "If they have the wherewithal to produce a CD on their own, we don't even call them a 'local' band. Alex Diaz and Ho Chi Minh get played between Guided by Voices and Pavement without being tagged as 'local.'"
Besides offering local music a rare shot at regular airplay, EyeQRadio welcomes nonlocal independently produced recordings (musicians should send tunes to their DJ of choice) and has also invited bands to play at benefits for the station. Each show is recorded and later played online during EyeQRadio's Tuesday-evening spotlight on South Florida music. Listeners can expect to hear groups like the Avenging Lawnmowers of Justice, Trophy Wife, and Ragamuffin Soldier, among others, during the station's locals show.
Because the benefits usually book about eight bands, eight hours of live local music is available for anyone who's tired of the drivel offered by FM stations, most of which "regard music and culture the way manufacturers regard tires and Dial soap," observes Alvin. "Why would anybody cool listen to a dumbed-down, homogenized entity when they can listen to all of these cats running hogwild?"
Despite its abundance of creative élan, EyeQRadio lacks something that commercial mainstream stations don't: money. To date the fledgling station hasn't procured a single advertiser -- the lifeblood of all media -- and is relying strictly on anonymous backers to cover its operating costs. But landing accounts might not be as hard as it appears. A few years ago, after Webcasting for only three months, GoGaGa (gogaga.com), a similarly eclectic outfit in Boulder, Colorado, landed KSwiss athletic-shoe company as its initial sponsor.
Like GoGaGa, EyeQRadio has the advantage of affecting listeners -- or, as advertisers would perceive them, consumers -- across the globe, with hits already coming from all over the United States and from as far as Pakistan and Japan. Of course, selling ad space to big boys like KSwiss might lead to the kind of creative cowing that the station shuns. For now, however, EyeQRadio is focusing its energies on content and all of its unregulated and glorious options.
Back inside the station's DJ booth, Mr. Entertainment clears his throat and introduces the next track, "Chattahoochie Coochie," a song he cowrote with a friend and one that he'll now be singing a capella for Sunday-night listeners.
"It's more interesting to play music that causes trouble," he says.