One of the best things to do alone in NYC is curl up with a book and tune in to some new, exciting, inspiring music. And while Spotify and Pandora are great and all, sometimes there’s nothing like a good old-fashioned human-curated playlist to elevate you out of a rut. From shipping containers in Greenpoint to the Silent Barn in Bushwick, these stations may very well be in your neighborhood, providing exciting new content to the airwaves on a daily basis.
Best independent NYC radio stations
Newtown began in 2009, when founders Mark Brinda and Colin Ilgen wanted to form a North Brooklyn response to the (now defunct) East Village Radio for the bloggers, labels, venues and bands who made their homes across river. Now, based out of a community space in Bushwick, the station has some of the most diverse and creative programmings in the city with a lofty mission to explore a vast array of genres and ideas. Over the last eight years, it has garnered listeners from all over the world and had a few surprises too, including as a visit and DJ set from Bjork (which you can check out on their blog). See the crew out this summer at the Out in the Streets festival, or apply for your own show by emailing email@example.com
RFB was started in 2015 by Rob Prichard (former owner of Surf Reality) and Tom Tenney (former owner of SPACE). Both wanted to revive the sense of arts-oriented community they previously had achieved in their spaces, but without worrying about ever-inflating rents or city codes. RFB is unique in that it encourages “live” interactions with music, news and talk rather than focusing on podcasts and archives. The stations fosters a spirit of discovery and exposure to new ideas by having listeners tune in live rather than retreating into the “pod” that reinforces ideas and music you already subscribe to. To get a better understanding of their mission, and station as a whole, you can see Tom presenting a talk-workshop on "Freeform + DIY Transmission" at UnionDoc's symposium on "Resistance Radio" on June 2-4, 2017. They will also be having a quarterly fundraiser on May 21 at Rubulad's new space in Williamsburg, featuring live music by The Bushwick Hotel.
Check out this show: Brooklyn Bandstand is a daily show with rotating DJs, highlighting the local scene by featuring music from bands playing somewhere in NYC that night. Mon–Fri 4–6pm. radiofreebrooklyn.com
Photograph: Courtesy Ben James Taylor
In 2014, the 8-ball Community founded Muddguts Radio, broadcasting out of Muddguts Gallery, with the aim of promoting local music and the artists that were on on view at the temporary space. Now, the station has grown to include 50 DJs, broadcasting both from their station in Chinatown and remote casting live performances and art shows. Come visit them at their weekly DJ night at June bar in Bushwick, or email firstname.lastname@example.org for show proposals and volunteer opportunities.
Check out this show: The Clayton Patterson Show is a weekly show that happens from The Clayton Gallery & Outlaw Art Museum in the LES. The show features guests that have impacted the Avante-Garde community ranging from artists, musicians, doctors and creative minds. Mon 6-8pm. 8ballradio.nyc
Photograph: Courtesy Clayton Patterson
Heritage Radio Network
Anyone who has eaten at Roberta’s Pizza (a.k.a. everyone) may have noticed a makeshift studio inside of two shipping containers (if you’re not too distracted eating your slice of Bee Sting). The set-up isn’t just for show: It is a 24-hour, 7 days-a-week online station dubbed Heritage Radio Network, a stream that focuses on all things food and drink. Its roster of 35 shows, running live 5 days-a-week, unites the top minds in food today, from innovative brewers and bartenders to groundbreaking agricultural policy-makers. Since 2009, its mission has been to “expand the way eaters think about food in order to build a more equitable, sustainable and delicious world.” While there are no public events at this time, the station hosts monthly happy hours for members (become one by making a donation).
Check out this show: Cutting the Curd is a show about cheese in all its forms that features interviews with notable cheesemakers, cheesemongers and cheese-lovers. It offers an inside look at “the curdy, the nerdy and the downright funky world of artisan cheese.” Mon 5–5:30pm. heritageradionetwork.org
Since 2013, Bel-Air has called several Bushwick locations home before settling on its current locale in Silent Barn. It is a community radio station funded by members, which leaves total creative control up to the individual DJs. Shows range vastly in terms of genre and theme and are frequently changing. While live broadcast is limited to the evenings, its archive is a treasure trove of diverse programming and the “random” button on the website makes for a fun adventure into the unknown, when you’re not quite sure what you’re looking for.
Check out this show: Hyperopia: 20/30 Vision is a show where guest experts speak about the near future of their chosen field, followed by a mix inspired by the conversation. The discussions have ranged from the future of line dancing to the future of reproductive justice. Biweekly on Tue, 10–11pm. bel-air.org
Photograph: Courtesy Anais Alexandra
The Lot Radio
The newest addition to this list is the Lot Radio, which operates out of a shipping container in an empty lot in Greenpoint. Starting in 2016, the Lot has provided an eclectic selection of shows, with a specialty in electronic music, and a live video stream of DJs as they spin on the site. Despite its short tenure, the Lot has already grown to be one of the most innovative and busy stations in NYC, hosting weekly concerts at the church across the street, releasing an iPhone app and producing exciting live events around the city. Check out its birthday tribute to Philip Glass, co-produced by the American Contemporary Music Ensemble, on May 18. In order to fund operating costs, the station has an adjacent kiosk that sells beer, wine, coffee and snacks, so if you find yourself craving a brew after a day at McCarren park, stop by to support independent music.
Check out this show: Electronic musician Joakim has a monthly show with rotating themes, including industrial beats, Krautrock, jazz, soul protest songs and crooners. Listen to the archives on mixcloud. Monthly, third Thu, 2–4pm. thelotradio.com
An irreverent, off-the-cuff addition to this list comes from of the Bushwick-based KPISS, which is making waves (no pun intended) with its daily streams (eh, maybe pun intended). The name is a reference to what the studios smelled like when founder Sheri Barclay first signed the lease, as well as to the idea of “taking the piss” out of other community and online radio stations. After renovating it into a community-friendly artspace, complete with pink walls, murals and antique furniture, Sheri wanted to create a radio station with a sense of humor that promoted total airplay freedom...and KPISS was born! Since its beginnings in 2015, the station has grown to over 50 shows that boast as many as 470,000 listeners from around the world. It's always looking for creative participation, getting folks to volunteer with its 9-foot art tower, edit podcasts, fill guest slots and paint murals, so email if you are powered by a love of DIY art, independent music or both. The site also includes an old school AIM-style chat room which helps listeners interact with DJs and fellow fans in real time, adding to the community feel.
Photograph: Courtesy Ricardo Burneo
Starting in 2011, BBOX was the product of a successful business proposal to occupy an empty shipping carton in Flatbush. Now, the original space has become high-rise buildings (because of course it has) but BBOX has remained ground-breaking and bursting with old-school New York vibes. Broadcasting out of its new location in Dumbo, BBOX’s aim to is to enable listeners to "Fall In Love With Radio Again” by providing a 24-hour stream and a sense of community, fostered by interviews with local movers and shakers and by hosting neighborhood events. Stay tuned for a block party they'll be hosting in Dumbo, which they'll be posting about soon on their Facebook page.
Check out this show: Roxanne Roxanne is the station’s hilarious founder and owner’s show, which combines interviews with a huge range of local characters with music mixed in. It's always a good time. bboxradio.wordpress.com
Photograph: Courtesy Tye Marchelle