From the mid-'70s, Electrifying Mojo ruled the airwaves for adventurous Motor City music lovers. His nightly five-hour show is widely cited as an influence among the city's techno pioneers, where young local talents—like recurrent guest DJ Jeff "The Wizard" Mills—were nurtured. Between segments of spoken word (usually from his autobiography), and listener call-ins and shout-outs, Mojo was all about the music. He famously disregarded the race-based programming conventions of the time, favouring The B-52s and Kraftwerk, playing every new Prince album in its entirety and calling on the Midnight Funk Association to help launch the show's final hour of leftfield jams by Parliament-Funkadelic and The Gap Band. His listeners rewarded him with their loyalty, following him as his show bounced between a number of Detroit stations over its two-decade run.
Mojo was an anomaly in many ways then, and it's nigh on impossible to imagine such a highly conceptual and unconventional program being granted such freedom now. Yet even as digital technology has irrevocably transformed the radio landscape, the power of radio to build communities within electronic music has remained unmatched.
Beats In Space presenter Tim Sweeney knows Electrifying Mojo mostly by reputation. The show was out of reach for the Baltimore native, and bootleg recordings of Mojo's show have always been thin on the ground. Still, Sweeney pays tribute to the pioneering host with his own long running show for New York station WNYU: on the Beats In Space website you can become a member of the "Midnight BIS Association." "He carved his own path," says Sweeney via e-mail, "and he was a character. He had a voice and ideas that you just don't find on radio now."
Sweeney has never solely relied on his voice to carry the show, which is mostly comprised of two hour-plus mixes from himself and guest DJs. It's down to the music, and over the course of twelve years Beats In Space has become something of a catch-all phrase, denoting a sound, a community and a weekly ritual of discovery and discussion. Sweeney's far-reaching network of on-air and online listeners is reflected in his ever increasing international DJ commitments—an impressive feat for what is still essentially a late night, midweek show on a college radio network.
Two factors have been vital to the success of Beats In Space. Firstly, Sweeney prioritized online availability from the outset: Utilizing the now-quaint Real Audio format in the show's early years rapidly expanded its reach. Although there are no definitive listener statistics—WNYU doesn't subscribe to radio ratings body Arbitron—with something close to 200,000 MP3 downloads per month from the Beats In Space website, Sweeney is sure that his podcast and webstream audience eclipses the number of his on-air listeners. Secondly, Sweeny's close links to New York's electronic underground. He came up under the wing of hip-hop figure Steinski, dipped his toe into production with local imprint Rvng Intl and is closely linked with the DFA stable—all connections that have made his show a must-listen for like-minded music fans, and an invaluable resource for labels and artists.
"[I remember] when I played the Carl Craig remix of Delia & Gavin's "Relevee," he recalls, "that was the first time people were getting to hear that remix. A lot of people started telling other people to check out that show to hear it, but I had to talk over parts of the track because people had been cutting out the songs from previous shows and posting them to their blogs. The DFA guys said I could play it if I talked over it, but I think a lot of listeners were saying 'What the fuck are you doing?' [laughs] I was just excited to play that song, though."
Yet another DJ that has built their career largely through their radio show rather than club appearances is Mary Anne Hobbs. It somehow didn't feel like much of a surprise when it was announced yesterday that Hobbs was returning to radio this summer with a Saturday night primetime slot for XFM. The network will undoubtedly be hoping for another defining broadcast like Hobbs' Dubstep Warz, which is largely recognized as the global tipping point for dubstep.
Hobbs' introduction to that show on January 9th 2006 was delivered in her typically hyperbolic style—"if you're looking for music that will change your life, it's here!"—but it's a sentiment that Hobbs says is reflected back to her, on an almost weekly basis. In the act of bringing together the emergent scene's key players—Mala, Skream, Kode 9, Vex'd, Hatcha, Loefah and Distance—for one live broadcast, Hobbs helped to both define and legitimize dubstep for an international audience.
Via e-mail, Hobbs recalls the seismic ripples that Dubstep Warz created. "I remember all of us meeting at FWD>> the following week after the show had gone down. Our minds were totally blown by the massive global response we were experiencing. Dubstep Forum was just a tiny concern at that point with a couple hundred members. Distance put a little post up there about Dubstep Warz; within 5 days there were 20,000 hits on the thread. Youngsta, who was working at Black Market record shop at the time, was telling us he'd had orders from record shops all over the world, just faxing through the entire tracklisting for the show." Over the next few years, Hobbs' show—alongside pirate-turned-licensed station Rinse FM—became one of the most important hubs of the UK bass scene, pushing the sound to a wider audience, charting its mutations on a weekly basis, and becoming a vital voice in the genre's ongoing dialogue.
Electronic music radio isn't solely the domain of underground experimentation, however. Big name jocks like Carl Cox, Armin Van Buuren, John Digweed and Paul Oakenfold all present weekly programs that are syndicated to FM stations across the world. The Radio Department, founded by Gavin Kingsley and John Askew, is one of the biggest syndicators in dance music, and alongside the aforementioned names they recently added Adam Beyer to their roster, figuring that there was an international audience hungry for Beyer's uncompromising techno. They were right. Within six months of Beyer's first Drumcode program, the show was being distributed to 30 countries, with an audience of nearly 10 million listeners each week.
"The whole point of doing a show with Adam Beyer is that it was never going to be watered-down," explains Kingsley. "We wanted a proper underground techno show, [and] for Adam, he exposes his name and his brand to countries that maybe he's never played. [Now] he can broadcast to them every single week of the year. They get exposure, and the stations get the best DJ of each genre." While Kingsley acknowledges that the radio industry has changed drastically in recent years, he points out that for electronic music "FM and terrestrial radio are still really massively important." More than anything else, he says, "We know where we are with FM stations much better than online. We know they're legal, we know they're paying everyone—so that's quite important to us."
For Beyer, alongside the obvious benefits of widening the Drumcode brand, it's as much about the nostalgia of his own experiences with radio. "I like it because when I was a kid I was tuning into the radio a certain time every week and listening and stuff. I know it's not the same today, but I still like the feeling of knowing that there might be some younger people out there, waiting every week for that specific time and listening, maybe recording the show."
Like Sweeney, Hobbs, Beyer and countless others, Schneider's main interest lies in connecting with others, and creating a community through music. There may never be another uniquely local flashpoint quite like Electrifying Mojo, but it's arguably much bigger than that. "Still, to this day—five years later—in the most far flung locations in the world, people will tell me 'Dubstep Warz changed my life,'" says Hobbs. ." If, as a broadcaster, you get to transmit one show with such profound cultural significance in a lifetime, it's a miracle." The community may be much larger, but it's a community nonetheless.