Substrate Radio has only been on the air eight months, but owner Jason Hamric says it’s a project that’s been more than 20 years in the making.
“Starting a radio station in the ’90s was impossible,” said Hamric. “You’d literally need millions of dollars to start a broadcast station, but it was still something I always wanted to do.”
Hamric runs Substrate Radio out of a tiny one-room studio in Woodlawn. The building also contains a few small offices for other ventures and a practice space for a metal band. Though its environs are humble, Hamric and the rest of the Substrate team are putting a lot of quality material on the air both in terms of music and programs, many of which have a local and regional focus.
“I’d love for us to be the KEXP or WFMU of the region,” said Hamric, referencing two of the West Coast’s and Northeast’s best independent music radio stations.
When asked if he had aspirations to take Substrate Radio to the FM dial like fellow local internet radio start-up Birmingham Mountain Radio, Hamric was in no hurry to hit the actual airwaves. “Web [radio] allows so much more freedom than FM, so we’re happy here for now.”
Hamric was quick to point out though that Birmingham Mountain Radio has provided a lot of advice and support for Substrate. “They’ve helped us avoid a lot of pitfalls. If they made a mistake three times, they told me about it, and hopefully, we’ve been able to limit it to making that mistake twice.”
In addition to playing music, Substrate has seven specialty shows and has DJs playing music throughout the day. Here’s a rundown of three shows:
- “Blood on the Knobs” with Jim Fahy, who has spent much of his life working in various music industry endeavors: working at record labels, writing and performing in bands.
- “Spellbound” with Andrea Paschal, which focuses on new music and serves as a resource for listeners to discover new releases.
- “Ham Radio” with Blake Ells and Rick Muscles is a combination of music, guest interviews and general tomfoolery. Local artists, musicians, business owners, etc. are invited onto the show to play music and talk about their various projects. Rick Muscles also has a card deck with questions devised by Chuck Klosterman meant to foster discussion and debate about various moral and philosophical issues.
A recent “Ham Radio” program featured Kyle McKinnon, programmer for Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival, and Merillee Challiss, the owner of Bottletree. The three entities present were all supporting each other’s endeavors earnestly and enthusiastically. It was an organic manifestation of Hamric’s ideal of being a radio hub for local cultural and artistic undertakings.
“Ham Radio” also encapsulates Hamric’s goal of having a passionate mix of on-air personalities that includes those with and without radio experience. Ells has a background in professional radio, but co-host Rick Muscles is an avid music enthusiast, storyteller and comedian with no professional radio experience.
“We’ve got guys like Blake that have radio experience,” said Hamric, “but we also have others that are simply enthusiastic and passionate about it. I think a lot of the public isn’t interested in overly enthusiastic radio types anymore. They want real, and our hosts are real.”
Hamric said he personally peruses dozens of music blogs every week looking for new music to add to the station’s excellent and constantly expanding playlists. That doesn’t even take into account what the various DJs find and add to the rotation. “I think we have a great mix of stuff. Give us 30 minutes, and I think you’ll be hooked.”
A random 30-minute sample of Substrate Radio programming yielded songs by Mac Demarco, Bleached, Pere Ubu, Ramones, Interpol, the Duke Spirit and Guided by Voices. New bands hailed by Pitchfork, ’70s punk classics, and staples of ’80s and ’90s college radio provide an eclectic but consistently high standard of music that you won’t hear elsewhere in town.
As one of their station bumpers put it: “You’ll hear none of the hits, all of the time,” a tongue-in-cheek but accurate manifesto of the station’s commitment to underground and lesser-known music.
“There’s more music being made now than ever, which is great,” said Hamric, “but with so much competing for our attention, it’s more important than ever for us to be curators.”
Substrate Radio is available online at substrateradio.com and via mobile app for both iPhone and Android.