In an age where local music is overpowered by mainstream on the airwaves, Richmond’s local radio shows and podcasts are keeping the city’s music scene alive.
If I have to listen to this goddamn Miley Cyrus song again, I’m going to break my radio.
It’s safe to say that the radio airwaves in Richmond are dominated by modern pop, easy listening, and country music without room for much local love. I love WRIR, Richmond’s only independent radio station, which is a great alternative to mainstream radio and should be listened to regularly. But what about our other locally focused options? Are the folks at 97.3 stuck battling Miley all by themselves?
Thanks to a few hardworking music lovers, Richmond’s local acts have another avenue to the airwaves with a number of Richmond-only radio shows and podcasts. For the listeners, these radio shows allow them to discover new local bands, to hear their favorites, and find out about upcoming releases and shows. For the bands, it’s a chance to get their music to a new audience and showcase their talent on the air.
A commonwealth of musical options
If you remember the days of the now-defunct radio station Y101 (God, I loved that station!), Community Service was a weekly show that featured local music, usually on the pop rock, radio-friendly side. When the station went off the air in 2010, the show was gone too. After a few years, the last of the show’s hosts, Stephen “Dash” Brown, decided to bring it back as a podcast, using a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds. Now the show is back, focusing on bands from across Virginia.
“I like to think of my show as a community service,” Brown says, referring to how the show got its title. “Get new local music to the community and let them know where they can see the bands they hear live. This show is really all about the music. I wanted it to be a little broader, covering more genres, and a larger location.”
“It’s all about local music. That’s it.”
Studio B with Jay Smack, which airs Sunday at 9:00 PM on XL102, has been on the air for 20 years. It first aired on 104.7 The Buzz (ANOTHER radio station that was amazing!) in 1995 when Smack, who had been doing part-time DJ work at the station, wanted a stronger local presence and a way to be more involved in the community. When that station changed its format and became an oldies station in 1998, Smack moved the show over to XL102 at the Program Director’s request.
“It’s all about local music. That’s it,” Smack says. “But my approach on Studio B is very simple. It’s a mirror that reflects local music, and I encourage bands and artists to use it as a forum to get the word out about what they’re up to. I concentrate on the bands and artists that are active and have gigs tours or events, but it’s not all current though. I like to continue to play bands from past eras in Richmond music since there are lot of people who listen to the show who have been around and involved with local music for years.”
“There was so much more happening than I had even imagined.”
Over at tiny radio station WHAN in Ashland, Derrick Vara and Dan Anderson wanted to showcase local music and comedy in their own way. In 2011, they began Radio Rubber Room, an hour-long show featuring songs from Richmond bands, artist interviews, and comedy skits. Radio Rubber Room has since moved off the airwaves and onto the internet-waves as a podcast with Shaun Austin heading up the writing efforts and Chanelle Vigue as co-host and promoter.
“I saw the potential of what the show could be as a piece of media–to be a platform to showcase the music happening in Richmond,” Vara says. “I had learned quickly that there was so much more happening than I had even imagined.”
“Nothing is off the table.”
Internet radio show Cut The Cord Radio began in Tyler Matthews’s tiny efficiency apartment in 2013. The show features a rotating cast of contributors discussing Richmond’s music scene as well as its arts, comedy, and culture. Tune into Cut the Cord every Thursday and hear current segments like “Drunk Girl Reviews Richmond Bands,” “Herschel Stratego Annoys Richmond,” and “Live with Connie Sue from ANIMAL.”
“We have done everything from having Mike Bishop of GWAR on to having a German psychiatrist analyze our lives,” Matthews says. “[Cut the Cord] is 100 percent uncensored so nothing is off the table. And since we follow no format or FCC guidelines, our show is open to anything. If you feel like you’re overlooked by the RVA radio/podcast community because your act is weird or obscene, then we strongly urge you to contact us.”
Open and honest
Being free from the corporate and commercial restraints so common with mainstream radio allows all these shows to be as open and honest as they want to be. Plus, it allows them to focus on the often overlooked acts that would never have a chance to shine otherwise.
“One of the best parts about not doing [Community Service] on radio anymore means that I can really do whatever I want with it now,” Brown says. “I don’t have to get permission to do a certain type of show, and I don’t have to get edited versions of songs, or not use songs period because of content or language. There is a lot of freedom there.”
“I have to say my personal music taste does play a big role in Radio Rubber Room,” says Vara. “I do have a broad love for music of all genres. After that, it would come down to music appreciation. A particular band or song may not be my thing, but I know it’s good and it’s likely someone’s thing and I want that someone to hear it.”
And it’s not just Richmond that’s listening. Thanks to modern technology, these shows are getting play outside of the city and around the world.
“We get a good amount of downloads from the Carolinas, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York,” Vara says. “We’ve always seemed to have gotten a good amount from Germany, for some reason, but it’s been cool to see more coming from the Netherlands and some in France.”
Everyone involved with these local shows say they don’t just want to get the music out there, but their biggest goal is having the local music scene benefit from it as well.
Community Service hosts a number of live recordings at the Canal Club during major shows and records live performances and interviews with the bands playing. Cut the Cord records its show live and encourages listeners to call in with whatever they want to talk about (804-767-7265 is the number. Call in!). And after a number of open mic nights and shows at various venues, Radio Rubber Room now hosts a bi-weekly music night at Emilio’s featuring acts they play on the show.
“It’s funny because there are probably plenty of people that only know Radio Rubber Room for the live events we’ve put on,” Vara says.
“You just have to support local music and give it a voice. You just have to,” Smack says. “Plus, I feel there needs to be a foot in the door of commercial radio. I understand why corporate radio doesn’t pay much attention to local artists, but that doesn’t mean I like it. Local artists don’t have the promotion machine or millions of units of sales behind them, and that’s not good for business. But at the same time, you have to cultivate your local talent. There is so much amazing talent in our own backyard and I continue to be blown away by how much really good music is being made at the local level.”
“I still don’t think the scene is as nearly appreciated as it could be, and there’s music and music fans that aren’t yet connected,” Vara says. “I hope that someone listening to Radio Rubber Room for the first time might hear and get turned onto something new. If one person hears an artist, checks them out, and buys an album or goes to a show, it’s worth it.”
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Roundup of RVA radio shows & podcasts
“Online” indicates that the show is available a la carte for your listening pleasure, it is not a live stream of the show in progress. You can listen to those suckers whenever you want!
Studio B with Jay Smack
Sundays 9:00-11:00 PM on XL102, and online
Radio Rubber Room
Weekly shows online
Cut the Cord
Recorded live Thursdays at 7:00 PM online, where you can hear back episodes as well
New show every Sunday online
Saturdays 11:00 AM-1:00 PM on WDCE 90.1FM, and online
The Mike LaRue Show
Mondays 9:00-11:00 PM on WDCE 90.1FM, and online
Shows focusing on Richmond music on WRIR 97.3FM
Also available for online streaming
The Commonwealth of Notions
Thursdays 3:00-5:00 PM
Thursdays 5:00-7:00 PM
River City Limits
Saturdays 6:00-8:00 PM
Photo by: Stephen “Dash” Brown, Community Service