Full disclosure: Since meeting the gang of scruffs behind WEMF in February, I subsequently went on to join their FM-wannabe love and terror cult and now host a weekly show, the Sleazegrinder All American Super Rock Power Hour, on Friday nights at 8pm. But I would not look at the following story as a ringing (and potentially biased) endorsement of the station so much as another tragic symptom of my rampant egomania. On with the show.
A year ago, the third floor of the EMF building in Central Square was an empty storage space. Dave Crespo, one of our protagonists in this underdog tale, described it as looking “Like the Addams Family attic, basically.” And while some creepy décor remains – there’s vintage carny/ kitsch bullshit spooking you around every corner – it is most definitely not a storage space anymore. It is, in fact, a bustling radio station, sort of a cross between WBCN and WKRP, a place where Boston’s music scene mingles freely with a rotating crew of weirdos, dreamers, and schemers. Downstairs, in the rehearsal spaces, recording studio, and artist workshops, the stuff of rock ’n’ roll legend is created. Up top, it’s all broadcast on WEMFradio.com, a loud and defiant thumb right in the eye of anyone who tells you that radio is dead.
WEMF is largely the work of just three men: William “Des” Desmond, owner of the Sound Museum series of rehearsal rooms and front-freak for perpetual art/ shock rockers The Bentmen; Dave Crespo, formally of the late and lamented Internet radio station Unregular Radio; and drummer/ DJ/gadfly Michael “Nash” Nashawaty. Des built the joint, Crespo and Nash run it. They consider it a family affair, so much so that they refer to each other as “Brother,” as in “Hey Brother Des, how’s it hanging?” It’s endearing and kinda creepy all at once. Like you’re never really sure if this is a radio station or an early ’70s death cult. “Well, we don’t share our women,” Nash assures me. At least not yet.
“There’s no particular reason why we do that,” Des tell me, from the cozy confines of the EMF office. “Just to create an entity, really.”
“To form a family within a family, basically,” says Nash.
“Everybody’s here for the love of the game,” adds Crespo. “The labels help to remind us. It is a little cult-y, really. Why not?”
WEMF broadcasts 24 hours a day, much of it live in the studio. Nash explains the origins of the station.
“I originally got into radio because I went to school for it, and I was always in bands. Later on I couldn’t afford to stay in school and I was always touring with bands anyway. But I never lost my love for radio. Being on tour so much, I got to hear radio stations all across the country. When I’d get home, I used to hang out at Unregular radio with Dave. I’d buy hamburgers from Wendy’s and sit there and watch these guys run around and run the station. It looked like a lot of fun. When Unregular Radio ended, I started talking to Dave about doing something else in radio. I think at first we were just going to do our own shows, like our own podcasts or something, and I thought, ‘We should do this for real. Who can we talk to?’ Brother Dave was already talking to Brother Des about utilizing the Sound Museum, because it just seems like a perfect fit. He supplies the place for the bands to practice, we supply the ability for their music to be heard beyond the stage. I’ve known Des since about 1998, so it just seemed like a given that we should all try to make a radio station. We thought, you know, it’s Boston. We can start local and we can just build on it. And we’re almost coming up to our first anniversary.
“One year, still here,” Des says, proudly. “That’s the theme.”
WEMF is unique in many ways. While it is an online station, it operates as if it’s under FCC regulations. That means no swearing, which is a tall order when you’v e got notorious characters like Robby “Roadsteamer” Potylo on your roster.
“I just talked to Rob in the hallwaym” laughs Des. “I told him I counted 35 ‘S’ words in his last show. One or two is OK, but you throw in that many, the swear words lose their impact. He said. ‘I already dropped the F-bombs from the show, do you know how hard that was?’”
Des explains that the no-swearing policy is just one of the fiscal realities of trying to run a radio station. “With the Internet, people think you can just say and do whatever you want. My concept is, we try to reel that in a little bit. Even though we don’t have the FCC rules and regulations, we try to keep it so that our sponsors would actually like to sponsor us. I mean, we still have to run the station. We have about 12 businesses that sponsor us, that help keep the lights on, so you have to balance that with having the integrity of what you’re trying to do. If you’re going to drop the F bomb every two minutes, a lot of these companies are just not going to want to sponsor us.”
“Yeah, that’s our business model,” adds Nash. “To bring an old school mentality to new school technology. If all you have is swearing, you don’t really have much. We don’t want just anybody as a DJ, we want people who are really passionate about radio, people who will bring something new and different to it.”
While their intention is to operate like a traditional FM station, WEMF is more eclectic than most, not only in the variety of music, but also in the styles and topics of shows. There’s lots of new music being played every day and live band performances galore. But there’s also comedy and politics and talk of all stripes. It’s radio for the people. All the people.
“Everyone adds their own flavor,” says Nash. “For example, we have shows that are based on geek culture, so they’ll have inventors on, people like that.”
“We have politicians, artists, all different kinds of music,” adds Des.
“We’re a family, and we’re trying to bring that family atmosphere to people,” says Nash. “So we have something for everybody. We have funk and soul, hip-hop, all kinds of stuff. As far as a theme goes, our whole idea was to have a unified station where you could get a mix. We also try to have our shows flow together as best we can.”
And while it’s only been a year, a few breakout stars have emerged. “Some of the bigger shows are Rob Patylo, Dex and Butts, Dave Ver, Ryan Spaulding, and Show Sucks with Doug Sherman from Gozu and Darryl Shepard from Black Diamond,” says Nash. “Every show has their own audience, mixed in with what we’re building as an EMF audience. I think as long as we stick to the idea that we’re a station and not just individual shows, I think that’s what’s going to make us last.”
Of course, even with this veritable feast of eclectic programming and the clearly insane dedication of its two-man crew – Nash and Crespo work there six to seven days a week – you still have to address the issue of radio’s waning popularity. I mean, who the fuck even listens to radio anymore? Turns out, plenty of people.
“I mean a year ago, we started out with a hundred people listening a day,” says Des. “And now it’s up to 6,000.”
“Some weeks it’s up to 60,000 in one week,” says Crespo, “So it’s constantly growing.”
Some of that growth is due to EMF’s excellence in broadcasting (I did mention there’s a Sleazegrinder show, right?) and some of it, according to Des, is due to having reasonable, attainable goals. And also by not blowing the budget on liquor and shrimp cocktail.
“We’re a tree fort radio station,” he says. “We’re on the third floor of an old building. We’re a bunch of artists. That’s what this is. I’ve seen two maybe three Internet radio stations go right off the cliff. And part of the reason is that I’d see these stations dumping money into events and parties at expensive clubs. We’d rather put our money into the infrastructure.”
That being said, a first anniversary party is in the works.
“That’s true,” he said, laughing. “They’ll be bands and food and an open bar to celebrate lasting through our first year. I mean, you’ve still got to have fun, right?”
Indeed. Check out WEMFradio.com for a full schedule of shows.