How do you run a radio station without a permanent studio? BBOX is finding out.
The internet-based Brooklyn radio station initially made its home inside a shipping container in Dekalb Market in 2011, after winning Urban Space NYC’s Not Just a Container contest. But last January, when Dekalb Market closed for the winter, BBOX was forced to become even more mobile. It popped up in spaces like PiPS Table Tennis & Art Space and just recently BBOX announced that it will be sharing a space with an artist in DUMBO at 59 Pearl Street, a location that will tide them over through November, and possibly longer.
Katrina Cass, one of the four founders of BBOX, says they’re continuing to look for pop-up opportunities, “whether that be a gallery we can pop-up in for a day, or a concert hall or bar we can pop-up in for a month. It allows us to be more present in more neighborhoods, and better reflect Brooklyn as a whole.”
With just their portable 4G modem, a laptop and a couple of microphones (turntables and mixers optional), BBOX can stream live from anywhere. This month and next, for instance, they’re hosting a DJ battle as part of the RE/Mixed Media Festival, which celebrates all things remixed, mashed-up, and sampled in music, art, film, and fashion. The finals will be broadcast straight from the festival at the Brooklyn Lyceum on November 10.
From their various locations, BBOX streams live shows several hours a day, then fills the rest of the airtime with past programs. There are 17 music shows, spanning genres from hip-hop to salsa, and talk shows cover everything from the environment, to independent film, to sex. Cass and fellow founder Donna Zimmerman call Audio Smut, their latest addition, the “This American Life of Sex.”
The BBOX staff is all-volunteer, with over 40 regular contributors, with diverse backgrounds. Zimmerman, who has experience in programming for radio, says her staffers have worked in everything from public space and experiential design to journalism, music and advertising.
Many BBOXers in fact have day jobs in radio, says Cass, at stations including Sirius and WNYC. “They do BBOX because they need that personal level to remember why they got into media in the first place,” she says.
Others, like Ask Brooklyn host Kate Rath, are true newcomers. Rath wanted a creative outlet after many years working in the non-profit world, and was drawn to radio, but had no experience. She found BBOX, and began the show she describes as “a snapshot into life in Brooklyn.” Each week, she interviews a different Brooklyn-based expert on topics ranging from childbirth to whiskey distillation.
“BBOX Radio was an immediate fit for me,” she says. “They have good content, great DJs and are really involved in the community–they also throw a good party, which doesn’t hurt.”
Starting an internet radio station and finding an audience online is not as radical as it sounds. Listernership of online stations is up by roughly 40% to 50% from last year, which makes sense considering the number of devices you can now stream audio on. Just think about the way you listen to broadcast radio. Unless you have a car or an AM/FM tuner, you probably stream it online anyway. Adding one more internet station to your favorites becomes a natural next step.
“Everyone is swimming in a world of saturated media and self-organized playlists,” says Zimmerman. “People are getting a little tired of it and looking forward and back at once. We’re at the point where we can merge analog slow media with the convenience of the digital day and age.”
Being online also expands listenership. In addition to loyal local followers, says Zimmerman, BBOX has “listeners in every corner of the globe, from Chile to Canada, to Europe, to Africa, to Russia and Japan.”
The appeal is apparent. The borough is also home to two other internet stations, Heritage Radio Network, the shipping container station behind Roberta’s that specializes in food talk shows, and Newtown Radio, another Bushwick-based internet station that streams indie music from new artists.
“There are so many good artists and bands coming out of Brooklyn, we felt there needed to be a station covering them,” says one of Newtown’s founders, Colin Ilgen. Getting a low-power station at the end of the FM dial, like the free-format community station WFMU, posed too many logistical hurdles, from cost to FCC regulations. Not to mention the limits on listenership. “Terrestrial radio is on its way out,” says Ilgen.
BBOX has been broadcasting for slightly over a year now, and Cass says they’ve learned a lot. “We’ve learned how to run an organization starting from zero and build a community, and rely on the strengths of a really diverse crowd of people to make something unique and different. We’ve been running a marathon at a sprinter’s pace.”