“Seriously, what about this face says I wouldn’t sell out?” Matt Wade, co-founder of Radio Free Radio, says through a cheshire grin.
To the uninitiated, the inside of the station’s studio (affectionately coined “The Clubhouse” and doubling as Wade’s garage) might give you the impression he’s hardly kidding. From the empty 3-liter bottles of Food Lion knock off Mountain Dew, assorted action figures ranging from Mos Eisley’s wretched scum to Buddy Christ, and a dinged up guitar missing both an “A” string and anyone qualified to play it, you might mistakenly think you’d walked into a fraternity house if you weren’t immediately sure these guys were threatened at least once or twice by letterman jacket wearing bros named Blane to fork over their lunch money.
The truth though is, what Matt, Justin Wilson (the station’s other keeper and primary producer), and the host of other talented personalities they share their multi-colored mics with have done with Radio Free Radio is something much more earnest. Part pirate radio, part podcast, part live stream, their station is as innovative as it is D-I-Y.
Frankensteined from Wade’s short-lived web-comedy Issues (think Clerks meets High Fidelity in a comic shop) and Wilson’s Your Music Show (an indie internet broadcast showcasing Hampton Roads’ neglected music scene), Radio Free Radio provides a platform for anyone in the seven cities with something to say or sing. Their programming is comprised of a stable of weekly shows featuring comedians, sports fanatics, aspiring artists, musicians, scenesters, and yes, even Hulkster impersonating wrestle pals. What makes the model so unique is the interactivity simultaneously streaming social channels like Youtube, Facebook Live, and the wide net of others they push content to provide for their viewers. Amidst a traditional terrestrial radio environment in which automation has made the need for DJs a memory of the previous century, Radio Free Radio welcomes audience participation, and frequently their callers and commenters become a part of the programming.
“Before the cameras and Facebook Live,” recalls Wade, “we’d do absurd stuff like interviewing magicians on-air and having them perform their routine — with the punch being no one could actually see the tricks.”
“It just kept evolving what we were doing and could do,” says Wilson of the technology. “And now since the video [streaming] came online, we can see our listeners and viewership more steadily on the rise.”
Good Morning You Drunks, the station’s flagship offering and clearly Wade and Wilson’s baby, caters to an Oregon Trail audience with affinities for 90’s Alternative, bad B-movies, and still sleeved comics. From side splitting high comedy, to an irreverence too funny to be accidental, to better-luck-next-time gags, the show keeps viewers engaged by seemingly not being certain itself as to where it’s going next. Some of the better “bits” include tales of Godzilla’s meathead cousin Tedzilla, elaborate plots to abduct their neighbor’s pet pig, the recurring mispronunciation of “Wahlgreen’s” as “Wallgrins,” and the cast crying foul over the unfairly panned Norm MacDonald film Dirty Work. But it’s the default mode chemistry between Matt, Justin, and co-host Nathan Emilio (who is also Wade’s brother-in-law) that keeps GMYD must-see-live-stream.
When asked about weekly show preparation for their Monday night broadcasts, they each in unison deliver a sophomoric, “Show prep — what’s show prep?” That’s not, however, a coy response designed to amplify their exponentially more hits than misses. Between serving as the show’s co-writer, doing the occasional stand-up comedy gig, managing much of the station’s social media presence, and playing all-hours host to a revolving door of characters utilizing his Hampton home’s backyard as their own personal WKRP, Wade also works a demanding full-time job at a recognizable media company in Norfolk. And Wilson, a stay-at-home dad of two kids, doubles as the station’s superglue — curating local music selections, co-hosting two additional shows aside from GMYD, and producing nearly every other one on the schedule.
It’s a hustle all too familiar for those who value creativity as currency, as well as so many of the musicians and artists Radio Free Radio features on their airwaves. But as the station has begun to pick up steam, it’s also one they’re quickly finding is neither sustainable nor scalable.
“Getting out of the garage is the big priority,” admits Wade. “We’ve got to get into a studio that works for guests, for ‘round the clock shows. And my marriage, too.”
“A listener supporter model seems to make total sense,” says Wilson. “Or bigger sponsored blocks of content by businesses we love. [I] can’t imagine a Radio Free Radio with commercial after commercial.”
“There’s a way to do it that isn’t Wayne’s World. No ‘Noah’s Arcade,’ yanno?” says Wade — referring to the Mike Myers’ / SNL classic in which a charming rock’n’roll local access cable show is commandeered by ulterior motive corporate interest.
One of those ways is GMYD’s annual 24-hour broadcast fundraiser, All Day You Drunks. Faux funded by Bojangles, and designed to drive listeners to make their donations to the station’s ongoing Patreon page — no sleep, lots of snack cakes and limited pee breaks make for a hero’s trial for the cast that descends further into delirious hilarity with every passing hour. This year, they were joined for 21 and ½ of them by a familiar voice to Hampton Roads radio listeners — “Fan of the Game” Alfredo Torres. A regular on 96X’s much-missed Mike and Bob Show, and an early advocate for the channel, Torres thinks Radio Free Radio might be onto something —
“They’ve got a passion for radio the way it used to be,” he says. “What makes this unique is, you become a part of the show and you become a part of the family. And it’s local bands, local artists, [local] filmmakers; they ain’t afraid to be local. They embrace it. ”
Not everyone’s sold, however.
One disadvantage to encouraging audiences to be so involved in the content and operating without the luxury of a call screener is the invitation for inevitable troublemakers.
“It started with their calling us ‘fats’… which they’re not wrong. Just not nice,” says Wade. “It escalated from there though, where they’d attack any woman on any of the shows as a ‘feminazi’, idiotic stuff like that.”
Then, during Gettin’ Up Late, a comedy show hosted by a prominently African-American cast, callers deliberately derailed the programming and started dropping the ‘n-word’ on air. Understandably fed up with incessant ignorance, host Jounte Ferguson outed the callers’ phone number on the livestream. The move was righteous, but also against Twitch’s (a streaming social channel for gamers) standards of conduct policy. When asked if he was at all worried about being banned from a platform comprised of a key audience for the station, Wade replied:
“Are you kidding? I loved it,” he exclaimed. “It’s like, ‘why don’t you give these racists a call?’”
He goes on, “That’s not the kind of home we want to build for our hosts, and we’re not going to put up with that kind of behavior if we can help it. You’d think after all this time we’d be over racism like that… moved on… to a more advanced form of racism,” he deadpans.
It does identify a problem they’re anxious to solve — one to pile onto the myriad of challenges Wade and Wilson are well aware they face, including the need for new gear, offering more show opportunities to creators, space for live music performances from acts they love and support like Broken Mouth Annie, Human Services, and The Muckrakes, to name a few, and being more entrenched in a community that appreciates what they’re doing. If Wade and Wilson have their way, a new warehouse space in Norfolk they’re eyeing might provide some solutions.
“That’s the fire under us we need to make all of these things really happen, and to get people really excited about what we’re doing,” Wilson says.
And while the station’s future remains unwritten, one thing’s for certain — right now, Radio Free Radio is a bit that’s working.
For a full schedule of Radio Free Radio’s shows, visit Radiofradio.com/weekly-
To donate to the station’s Patreon page, visit Patreon.com/