A sliver of land lying on the Williamsburg-Greenpoint border, long a neighborhood mystery home to a lone and enigmatic RV, now hosts a tiny independent radio station broadcasting music to listeners around the world. Operating in half of a shipping container, the Lot Radio sprang up a little over a month ago in the triangular parcel of land at 17 Nassau Avenue. It aims to present those tuning in with a wide range of sounds spun by an ever-shifting roster of DJs.
“We try to be as varied as possible and show all the different scenes of New York,” founder Francois Vaxelaire told Hyperallergic. “We try our best to give room to everyone. We want DJs to come and feel excited and feel they’re at home — that they’re part of something totally different.”
Accompanying the audio stream online is a live feed of the small but airy booth, through which you can watch DJs spin and virtually mingle with listeners in a chatroom. DJs are scheduled to come on every two hours (although Rush Hour Records cofounder Antal recently commandeered the turntables for five hours in what Vaxelaire considers one of the station’s most memorable performances so far). Currently in its beta phase, the Lot Radio anticipates organizing a more official schedule comprised of two listening seasons a year, filled with both recurring local and guest DJs passing through the city.
“I think it’s really the time for internet radio because every song is now available online, but people have no idea what to look for,” Vaxelaire said. “So now we need curators, people with taste, to tell you, ‘Hey this is what’s good. This is what I love.’ Every two hours we have a guy who is absolutely passionate, who knows what he’s doing, who has been searching for records for 15 years, and he comes here to give you a selection of the greatest of his style.”
When I recently visited, the Brooklyn-based producer FaltyDL was on, spinning some slick electronic records. His show, like every one of the Lot Radio’s, is archived online on Mixcloud. Electronic music has dominated the airwaves so far, but Vaxelaire is quick to emphasize that the Lot Radio is “a music station, not an electronic music station.
“It’s a prominent part, but that’s because those are the people we’re most connected to,” he said. “But we’re trying to reach out to have more diversity.”
The booth shares its space with its source of funding: a kiosk that serves coffee and pastries. Vaxelaire is hopeful the proceeds will enable the Lot Radio to remain independent and free from brand sponsorship.
“We will never have that,” he said. “That was really important for me.”
New York City is already home to a number of similar, independent stations, including Radio Free Brooklyn and WBAI; Clocktower Productions (which has a satellite studio at Pioneer Works) and 8-Ball Radio are also examples of internet radio stations with unique offerings. Last year, everyone’s beloved East Village Radio returned to its small storefront space on First Avenue after closing in 2014, although it has relaunched on the digital radio broadcasting network Dash Radio. Vaxelaire, however, did not find himself particularly drawn to any local stations and thus decided to found his own.
“I was listening to NTS in London and Red Light Radio in Amsterdam, but here in New York, I was not following any radio stations,” he said. “I know East Village Radio does a lot of good things, but there weren’t any stations I was really excited to follow. I thought there was a need for a radio, and since I know a couple of people in the music scene, I jumped on board.”
Originally from Brussels, Vaxelaire now lives in Greenpoint and often walked past the triangular patch of land he now runs. A notice announcing it was up for lease had surfaced last year on the chain-linked fence enclosing it, but he secured the space only after nine months of battling the city over permit approvals. Now, the once-barren lot is alive with visitors — from young music devotees to stroller-pushing mothers to priests from the nearby church — who lounge outdoors on pews and school chairs, surrounded by a flamboyance of plastic Featherstone flamingos and stunning views of Manhattan.
“What sets us apart from other online radios is our onsite location,” Vaxelaire said. “Often radio stations are impressive for people who aren’t part of the music scene … we wanted the whole project to be super friendly, and we want people from the neighborhood to show up.”
With glassy condominiums reaching for the sky in every other corner of the area, a modest community hub with a long reach is a fresh and welcome new neighbor.