An Interview with Mike S.
by Mary Sands
My good pal and all-around music aficionado, Mike S., runs two Internet radio stations via a site called Live365.com, which offers broadcasters 365 MBs of free storage and 24-hour audio streams. Basically, the broadcaster uses an application called EasyLoader (available at Live365) to upload MP3s to the Live365 server, which then streams music according to how the DJ sets it up--random shuffle play or in a particular order. Live365 pays the royalties for broadcasters to use copyrighted music, so the DJ just needs to follow some policies, such as only playing one artist x amount of times within an hour and never announcing the entire playlist ahead of time.
Mike has a pure jazz station and another station that he calls an "eclectic mix," which you can listen to if you go to his site, Radio Clambake. While you're there, check out his instructions for getting the most out of listening, whether you are using RealPlayer or Winamp (both are free). I recommend Winamp because it's simpler to set up. The main thing is to set the cache on either player to download a lot of the playlist at a time so that the actual stream doesn't lag. Mike's site shows how to do this. Also, for the eclectic mix you need to have at least a 56K modem. For the jazz show, you need a broadband connection (cable modem, DSL, or T1 line).
On a personal note, I'm happy to see that people can take "back" music and get away from the top 40 of the day, which is a big downer. I've listened to Mike's shows many times. If I'm in the mood for all jazz, then I tune into that station. I know I'll hear Count Basie's wonderful version of "April in Paris," which sets me right every time, and some of my other favorites like Sinatra, Coltrane, Gillespie, and Davis. What I like is that there's no smooth jazz on this list. I'd go nutso listening to that numb soft-petal. The hard-core, classic jazz that Mike offers is an excellent bag.
Most times I listen to the eclectic mix, because of its offbeatness. There's nothing like being a little buzzed and hiking down nostalgia lane with Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Were Made for Walkin'" (yep, sixth grade and white boots, singing into a celery stalk)--followed by stuff like the funky "Viva Las Vegas," Dead Kennedys' version, which brings about the recall of a couple moonlit desert rides on the 15 heading toward Barstow and then the great carpet city beyond. (You can't drive to Vegas without listening to this song, and singing it at the top of your lungs.) Next you might hear Paul Weller, a comedy routine by Steve Martin, MC 900 Foot Jesus, The Cramps, The Smiths, Patsy Cline, Japan's pop group The Pizicatto Five, Roxy Music, Dee-Lite, Ken Nordine, Art Linkletter, Colourfield, or an old Crisco commercial. There's too much to mention; the mix is pure comedy in Shakespearean tradition--full of surprise--and comedy in the traditional sense of being funny (particularly if you have a cynical sense of humor and don't take anything too seriously).
Following is an interview with Mike, who has spent long hours and several years making these radio shows possible.
Mary: You have two Internet radio shows: one that's all jazz and another that's called an eclectic mix. Let's talk about the jazz one first. What kind of jazz do you include in your playlist, and what is it about jazz that gets under your skin?
Mike: I have always liked most jazz music. It's the feeling I get from the intensity of the notes played. A lot of people think that music has to be loud or fast or somehow grating for it to be "intense," but that's just not true. Intensity doesn't necessarily mean it has to sound like a car crash. I play any jazz that appeals to me, and that includes a broad array of jazz types. There's a lot of straight-ahead bebop "standards," but there's some obscure favorites of mine mixed in as well. I wish the playlist could be 400 hours long. Instead, I've had to stay within the confines of about a 14-hour-long playlist. I try to get a little of everything in there.
Mary: How did you come up with the name "Radio Clambake"?
Mike: There was no lightning bolt the hit me on the head about the title. I just made it up on the spot and decided to stick with it. It means nothing!
Mary: About the eclectic mix, I've listened to it often and think of the arrangement of tracks as a performance art within itself. Describe this playlist, and tell us how you come up with such ideas--the tension, for instance, between a Carpenters' song followed by a Dead Kennedys' song--how
do you plan this element of surprise, or does it just happen? What goes on your mind as you're putting together these tracks?
Mike: I'm a big fan of incongruity, and that really shows in the eclectic playlist. To me, there's something magical in following a sappy Carpenters song with a 1-minute-long punk rock song like "Got the World Up my Ass." It's not done for art's sake; it's just the kind of music that I enjoy. Maybe it comes from having a short attention span, but I couldn't ever listen to, for instance, a whole Carpenters CD without getting the urge to hear something completely off-base and different about halfway through it. This radio playlist helps me fulfill that desire. Even in other types of media, be it film, TV, whatever, I've always been inspired by the mixing of different genres together, whether it makes traditional sense or not. I think of the Ed Wood movie Glen or Glenda, where an old, frail Bela Lugosi delivers a rambling speech about puppy dog's tails, monsters, and "pull the strings!" while stock footage scenes of buffalo herds and army exercises fade in and out. By doing this, Wood wasn't trying to make some "art statement," he was just trying to give his old codger friend some screen time and use up some stock footage he liked. But the end result was weirder than anyone could sit down and plan out. That kind of thing appeals to me. When someone sets out to consciously be avant garde or "weird," you can smell the fakery from a mile away. The truly weird and amazing things come from much deeper than that. Radio Clambake Eclectic is just a collection of songs I like or find interesting. The way they are put together is not an attempt to be "out there"; it's just the way that sounds best to me.
Mary: Another unpredictable factor in your eclectic playlist are the old commercials with the jingly 50's or 60's retro factor. In fact, much of Radio Clambake is like a walk down memory lane. Tell us something about the "past" aspect of your show and how you came about deciding this kind of
Mike: I found it on the Internet, and I found it interesting.
Mary: On the eclectic list are some comedy routines and songs that some might find offensive--yet, in context, they come across as satire. Do you ever get any complaints?
Mike: I don't think people are ready for what the eclectic stream has to offer. The complaints I have received are along the lines of "Wow, I liked the punk you were playing, but then some elevator music came on and I had to bail, dude." I think people are used to normal radio stations guiding them in a particular musical direction, like "Here's everyone's favorite Pearl Jam song... Up next is the same type of song from a different band. You will like this song eventually because we will hammer you over the head with it every hour until it's a million-seller, too." That way, people follow a musical path that can be easily predictable and set by the media. When it comes to make-up-your-own-mind streams like Radio Clambake Eclectic, a lot of people are lost and don't know what to think since it's purposely all over the place.
Mary: You also include some Kerouac readings, on both lists, of his readings of On the Road and Visions of Cody, with Steve Allen. What is it do you think that appeals to so many people about Kerouac's readings--and why do you like them?
Mike: I like the Kerouac I play because it's uncommon. I would not put Jackie Collins reading some romance novel in the playlist because it's ultra-predictable and pedestrian. Kerouac material follows no pattern, no agreed-upon, boring style. It is all over the place, and it takes a few readings/listenings to get the full meaning. But it sets your mind into action.
Mary: You know that Big Bridge has been a poetry and literary magazine from its beginning and this is the debut of the music department. People tend to take for granted popular music in magazine format as a kind of lifestyle feature rather than a cultural arts aspect. Your inclusion of Jack Kerouac as part of your programming indicates there is an acceptance and tendency to reinforce the parameters of "legitimate art." If possible, could you elaborate on your feelings about this? How does music "set the mind into action"?
Mike: I just like everything I play, on a personal level. That's what it's all about. In an interview, Lux Interior, lead singer of The Cramps, said, "Up until then (when FM radio began in the late 60's), you would hear a Frank Sinatra record followed by a SEEDS record, because it was just radio and
everybody had to listen to everything. Anything could creep in there, and the people who liked the awful stuff had to hear the cool stuff. Also, I don't think people had too many ideas about 'this is what I'm into'--people could just hear a song and react to it." That sums up what I'm trying to do with the eclectic side of Radio Clambake. The world has too many single-genre "we play this kind of music" stations, where each song falls into a general style, one after another. That sells records and provides certain targeted programming to specific sectors of the record-buying public. But that isn't satisfying to me. If a song is interesting to me, for any reason or on any level, then I'll play it. Music isn't supposed to be just about culture, just about art, or just about any single thing. It's about reaction.
Mary: On both lists, you also put in your own voice recordings, and some of these are straight-on introductions to the show, while others are funny asides. How does being on the air differ from that in a real studio, which you did for a while in college? Do you do a lot of takes?
Mike: I was rarely on the air in college. I took all the prep classes, but when it came time to do the on-air stuff, I totally lost interest and basically flaked. The funny stuff is a hit-and-miss thing, and I find myself tiring of the bits quickly. I will make more next time the comedy muse is upon me.
Mary: The whole idea of doing a radio show right out of your home is something that I think a lot of people would like to do, in order to express their own musical and spoken word interests. Tell us what is involved with putting together a radio show. What kinds of equipment do you need?
Mike: I just have a broadband connection to the internet, a CD player, and a microphone. When I was doing the Eclectic show live, 24 hours a day, I experimented with synthesizers, feedback, drum machines, sampling programs, live call-ins, etc. I want to get back into doing that more often. Maybe I will schedule some sort of live performance for the eclectic side.
Mary: How would you describe your listening audiences, and do they give you any feedback?
Mike: The jazz stream primarily attracts people at work, of all ages, who like jazz music and know what to expect from it. The eclectic side has a few die-hard listeners that listen every day. Since I took the eclectic stream down for almost a year, it lost some of its fan base. But they are coming back.
Mary: What is your opinion on the issue of the music industry vs. so much music available for listening or download via programs like Napster or Gnutella?
Mike: The flood gates are open. It's too late for the record companies to do anything about it.
Mary: In a recent article on popular music, The Miami Herald reported that rock 'n roll was going through a dead phase, that other music was more important right now--and also that there was no good new rock 'n roll. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Mike: What is "rock 'n roll"? Is there such a thing anymore? It's easy to identify "classical" or "hip hop," but rock 'n roll has come to mean so many different things it's tough to pigeonhole it as a single genre. In that way, I agree. Without a single unifying theme or style, rock 'n roll doesn't mean anything anymore.
Mary: Finally, how would you like to see the technology change for future Internet radio show hosts?
Mike: It's not so much the technology that needs to change, it's the mindset of the audience. When you look at the available stations online, the top 100 are dominated by bubblegum pop, rap, and techno/trance music. It's the same stuff, served up by 500 different people. In the end, the majority of listeners don't like their Internet radio to be challenging. They like their Internet radio to sound just like their favorite regular radio station. I think this mentality scares off the listeners with broader tastes, so all we end up with for listeners are cookie-cutter 14-year-olds that want to stay safe inside the only idiom that they know and not be challenged. Audiences need to dig deeper and find the unusual stuff that's out there. Then real expansion and change can take place in the medium. Internet radio will never replace regular radio. It needs to carve its own unique niche to survive.