Our Now Playing series features some of the most interesting online radio stations in the world. We interviewed the founders of each, and asked them to select a handful of shows that really represent what they stand for. See the whole series here.
Spotting a lease notice stuck to the gates on an empty plot of land near his Brooklyn home, Francois Vaxelaire took it as a sign. The New York-based Belgian had been working as a freelance photographer and videographer, but had become disillusioned with that lifestyle. And when he spotted the notice on the lot, located at 17 Nassau Avenue, he was struck by an idea for a new online radio station. Nine months later, in February 2016, The Lot Radio broadcast its first show.
“My first passion before everything is music, it always has been,” Francois explains. “This lot used to be a gas station, but it has been abandoned for about 30 years.
“It’s a little piece of land that everyone in the neighbourhood knows, but nobody knew who it was owned by. It’s a weird situation, but everybody was curious about it. Then one morning there was ‘For Lease’ sign, and everything came together.
Francois felt confident he was onto something special, but decided to float the idea past a few close friends just to sound them out.
There followed nine months of struggle, mainly to get the relevant permits and permissions. But even in the toughest times, when some people gently suggested that he rent an existing studio somewhere else, Francois knew he couldn’t abandon the lot.
“90% of the project was that place,” he says. “It’s magical. My idea was to create this little triangle of freedom. The most important thing for me was to create a place that was totally independent and self-run.
To make sure The Lot could pay its own way, Francois decided to open a coffee kiosk on the site. “That was the biggest challenge,” he laughs. “I thought it would be easy to sell coffee – it isn’t rocket science – but it was a total pain in the ass.
“It was crazy, but it forced me to think about the project in a million different ways and it made the project so much stronger. It forced me to have a proper plan.”
The plan soon paid off and the kiosk now covers the radio station’s costs. And that meant he could concentrate properly on his first love – the music.
“We are now showing a good panorama of what is interesting in New York, of the contemporary styles,” he says.
“A lot of people see us as an electronic music station, but I don’t think that’s right. By default, me and my friends are more into that scene so that’s how it started, but it’s not about a single genre.
“We just want to have people who are irrationally passionate. All the DJs are music heads – you go into their little New York apartments and there are only records. We want people who are honest, inspired and crazily in love with music.”
Francois works with a small team of curators who help him programme the shows, including DJ and Tiki Disco founder Lloyd Harris and Chris Cherry of the alternative gig venue Trans-Pecos.
He’s pleased with the diversity of the schedule they have created in the past year, but he is also excited about, “the next step – to build connections with all the different scenes and to be more adventurous.”
And even in the radio’s stations early days, there have been some very special moments that made all the effort to get it off the ground worthwhile.
“The biggest surprise was how fast people got it. After a few weeks we were getting emails from major DJs who I maybe hoped to get after the first year or two.”
So far The Lot has welcomed people like Joakim and Mike Simonetti, “all those people I played when I was back in Belgium listening to records in my basement.” One of Francois’ favorite moments came when Antal dropped in and ended up staying to play records on air for five hours.
“I was so happy. I didn’t say anything; I was just in the back dancing. When people I respect so much understand it so well, it’s the biggest joy.”
But the music, the schedule and the special guests always go hand-in-hand with the location as far as Francois is concerned.
“There are a lot of online radio stations at the end of the day. It was important for me to have a piece of land, a bricks and mortar place where people could come and create a bridge between the online world and the offline world.
“We have families coming down, tourists, the priests from the church next door coming in for coffee. I think that connection is important. We have listeners from all over the world but I hope when they come to New York, they feel welcome to come down and hang out.”
In fact the church next door does not just provide coffee customers. The young priests have bought into what their neighbours are doing, and invited them to host concerts in the church itself. The altar is packed away to make room for decks, and church volunteers run the bar, with all the proceeds going towards renovating the organ.
“I want to grow organically,” Francois explains. “It’s little steps but it’s very informal, very humble and people seem to love it.”