10 August 2009

Supertime Radio Revisited

My buddy Eric and I did internet radio for awhile. It didn't really work. I think we maxed around seven simultaneous listeners and among those seven were mostly family and close friends.

I flirted with internet radio for a good while. I started playing with Apple's internet broadcasting stuff back in high school, but that required a multicast backbone to get multiple listeners. Later on in college I found icecast and liveice, but didn't really do a whole lot with them. There were some technical problems with Linux sound servers and that scared me off a little.

A little later, Eric and Ilya found this podcast that they liked and through that I found out that Eric was into radio. I asked him if he wanted to do live internet radio and I think he was pretty psyched about it.

I'm not really sure why I was really drawn to radio. I hated morning commute radio since I started commuting. I'm not exactly the most gregarious person around. I think some of the technical stuff drew me into it: it was neat to be able to reach a lot of people from your computer. Plus there was sort of a thrill of being able to say something to the computer without looking someone in the eye. It took some of the edge off and the self-cencorship away. The gimmicky answer is that it's in my blood: my grandfather and longtime Boston DJ Charles Laquidara were cousins.

Nevertheless, on an April Friday we did a short test run calling parts of a Red Sox game as a couple of friends listened remotely. I think the next Sunday we did our first real show. It was a decent turnout for the first show: we had probably in the neighborhood of 5 or 6 listeners and several entertaining exchanges with impromptu studio guests. It was, unfortunately, an early peak.

Our format for the show was really just a conversation between friends. I don't think such a format is a terrible idea (more on that later), but the casual nature probably wasn't good radio hygiene. Eric and I had come up with a list of ideas of ideas before our first show (I recently uncovered the tattered piece of paper they're on, the other side is adorned with scratch work for an assignment for a computation theory class). We ran through basically all of them on the first show. Subsequent shows hardly got this level of preparation.

Our second show was canceled because Eric was dealing with some personal stuff. Here's the part where I reluctantly shit on Eric. You give me (or in this case I give myself) some sort of hour long obligation once a week and matter how I'm feeling I'll be there, fairly punctual and reasonably prepared whether I like it or not, with rare exceptions. Eric doesn't work that way. If he wasn't feeling up for a show, he wouldn't do it. Now I mean this not the sort of prima donna way, but more so to him, it didn't have the obligatory priority for him that it had for me. And while Eric always brought a lot of enthusiasm once he got on the air, he seemed sort of tepid about developing ideas for the show together off the air. That's not to say he didn't bring in material though: his concert reports were superb and he managed to find hilarious Craigslist posts. He'd also tend towards the late side, meaning it would be an absolute rush to get everything set up for the show, with no time beforehand to plot out the direction of the show.

I was annoyed, but I didn't want to let it show. To me it's totally unacceptable to tell your friends to act differently. Just completely unwarranted. You accept your friends for what they are and have no delusions of having any justification in thinking you should change them. Eric is a good friend of mine with a natural charisma and poise that far exceed what I brought to the show. Eric's inconsistency was hardly Supertime's largest problem.

We finished out the year pretty stagnant in terms of listenership. I had big plans for next year: fliers around campus, a domain name, a new weekday timeslot that I thought would make the show good background entertainment for people doing homework. I wanted to start right away. Eric wanted time to gage his schedule. After three or four weeks, I posted up the fliers and he started broadcasting. Eric proposed playing some music during the show. I was reluctant because of copyright concerns, but relented in an attempt to shake things up. The number of listeners stayed flat. I started up a Facebook group. Eric missed more and more shows. By the second semester, things got so discouraging that I basically stopped caring. Shows nearly stopped happening, maybe happening once a month. Listenership had basically declined to Ilya and our moms.

I had a hard time understanding why Supertime had failed. To me we were doing something novel and exciting. We were radio where anything could be said and no corporate agenda dictated anything. We were a podcast where you could listen live while things unfolded and call in and impact the show as it was happening. We had fliers around campus. We had a Facebook group with 50+ members. We implored our listeners to tell their friends. And yet we never broke out.

I think some of the recent stuff happening with WBCN has put some Supertime stuff in perspective. As mentioned before morning commute radio has been unappealing to me for quite some time. The first two years I commuted, I tried to find 60s/70s rock without enduring Karlson and McKenzie on ZLX. Third year, it was mainly WBOS. This year BOS lost steam fast, it became a summer of scanning with BCN serving as home base until the inevitable commercial block.

When the announcement was made that BCN's would format was to switch to WBMX's "Hot Adult Contemporary," freeing up WBMX's old frequency for sports talk, BCN's morning show Toucher and Rich abandoned playing music at all, in preparation for their move to new sports talk station. Frustrated with music on the radio in general, started listening to their show fairly exclusively. It was a little sophomoric and rather unfocused. If you started listening it at the wrong time you'd have no idea what was going on the entire ride to work. It was Supertime with more preparation and the occasional interview with someone of significance. But it turns out that therein lies the critical difference.

BCN has been a little different this week. They've called in a litany of DJs from the past. BCN seems like it was an institution through the 70s and 80s. It was before my time, but from what I can glean, they were responsible for breaking many international bands into America, launching the punk scene in Boston into the spotlight, and generally captivating Boston for good couple of decades.

I think good radio gives you a window into a world that you might not otherwise see. It lets you experience something that's beyond what you could do in your daily life. It's getting some underpaid production assistant to interview the most drunk person they can find after a Red Sox game. It's some unpaid intern investigating some new developing music scene in exchange for used records and discounts for concerts. It's having the cachet to interview someone who people really want to hear about.

There's also an issue with the medium. There's no scan button for internet radio. You can't rely on dumb luck to find you listeners. So the 'good radio' bit is even more critical for internet radio. It really needs to be something people feel they can't get anywhere else and be so compelling they feel that they need to inform others about it. Unfortunately, it would seem as though jokes where the punchlines are obscure baseball players or a discussion of that beggin' strips commercial doesn't do the job.

So I'll probably let the domain name for Supertime lapse, let the Facebook group and the blog sit idle, and keep the shows in a local archive (I don't have the free electricity to run a server anymore). It was a fine experiment. I don't regret doing it in the least. But I wasn't right for the gig. You give me some free time and I'll create some familiar work to fill it. I have to force myself to explore now things, and I wouldn't recognize a burgeoning trend if it tapped me on the shoulder. I can't address a small audience of my peers without breaking into a sweat. Maybe with some time and direction, Supertime could have been something, but the situation wasn't right.




  2. Also: Jordan Jesse GO!! is a stellar podcast and it's even simpler than Supertime. No music (beyond the same 10-second interludes), no call-ins. They just shoot the shit for an hour or an hour and a half. Oftentimes they'll have a very low-level celebrity on, but I'm sure I'd still love the show if it was just the two of them and maybe the occasional friend. So I don't feel like you need to offer anything other than some funny conversation to be a good podcast. Of course, a good podcast isn't necessarily a listened-to podcast, as Supertime clearly indicated (although I am frankly befuddled that even people who listened to it a couple of times stopped; did they just not like it that much? what's not to like?). A large part of the reason that JJGo is as listened-to as it is, undoubtedly, is that they have other podcast-friends and that they're riding somewhat off the coattails of Jesse Thorn's "The Sound of Young America" podcast; I likely would never have heard of it if that wasn't the case, but now that I know of it, I love it.