When Adrian Olivares founded Wynwood Radio in 2010, the state of community radio in Miami was abysmal.
“It actually didn’t suck that bad before, but somehow it seemed like [corporate radio] had taken over everything,” he says. “There was so much music out there, but you’d turn the dial and hear the same thing everywhere. It was pretty monopolized.”
Having helped program a Mexican radio station remotely from Miami, and as a longtime musician and producer (he is a former member of one of the later incarnations of Menudo), Olivares saw an opportunity.
He and friend Vicente Solis began using their broadcasting software to launch an Internet radio station. They soon set up a studio on the outskirts of Wynwood in Midtown and began playing music in the artistic spirit of what he described as Tony Goldman’s pre-gentrified Wynwood — though with the goal of boosting the city’s entire arts scene.
“It was like giving Miami its first guitar — we were doing something cool for it,” he said.
Today, Wynwood Radio is one of at least five different community radio outlets — meaning they don’t have corporate sponsors — broadcasting over the air and on the Internet throughout Miami-Dade and beyond.
While the stations have unique relationships with one another, collectively they are part of a movement that’s using the airwaves to promote Miami’s artists, musicians and thinkers across South Florida and worldwide.
It’s also become an antidote for the corporate radio stations that still dominate Miami’s dial.
Or as Peter Stebbins puts it, the ones that play, “The cheesy new songs that the big industry force-feeds you until you like it and buy it.”
Stebbins is the founder of WMIV 107.9, also known as Shake 108, the only member of the city’s DIY radio movement that can be found on a standard radio dial. But while they can be found on your dial thanks to an antenna atop an unassuming office building in Little Havana, Shake 108 is an online station in all but name only, since it doesn’t have a fixed studio. It sometimes even broadcasts out of Stebbins pocket via his cellphone.
Still, that antenna was hard won: Stebbins was one of the few to win a license for a low voltage as part of the Local Community Radio Act passed in 2010. In fact, the station remains low voltage and is still trying to raise funds to boost their antenna’s power, and/or move it, so that their signal is no longer squashed by the other 107.9 in the area, Palm Beach’s much more powerful – and, uh, different – Sunny lite FM station.
But Shake’s constraints have had the happy effect of turning it into a gadfly of Miami’s arts scene, as they can usually be found broadcasting remotely from most major art or street fairs happening around the city.
That’s brought Shake108 and Wynwood Radio closer.
“Shake is really fucking cool,” Olivares said. “[Stebbins’] story is amazing, we are in a parallel universe with him, he just had an idea because radio stations sucked, and he dreamed about it figured out about how to get [a license].
At the moment, Olivares and Stebbins are in talks about combining forces — Stebbins says he’d like to tap into Wynwood’s knowledge of how to reach an online audience, and Olivares says he’s always wanted a terrestrial signal.
And there’s little programming overlap — while Shake108 is more eclectic (think NWA to Skrilixx to Blue Grass), Wynwood tends to be more indie and electronic.
“It’d be a no-brainer to collaborate,” Olivares says.
Meanwhile, other stations are forging their own paths while finding ways to compete in this crowded space.
John Caignet founded online station Jolt Radio in 2010, with the goal of giving Miami’s substantial but dispersed artists and DJs a centralized platform to showcase their talents.
“We felt like there was an absence of community backing for bands, for producers, so the day we put that together, it kind of felt right,” he said.
Jolt has taken a slightly less musically oriented route to gain listeners. His station recently got the rights to broadcast shows put out by Democracy Now and Neil DeGrasse Tyson.
He doesn’t see other stations as competitors.
“I really love that there’s a couple options in the city,” he says.
Klangbox is another online station that comes with an impressive pedigree: While at the University of Miami’s WVUM, co-creator Laura Sutnick earned the station multiple Miami New Times Reader’s Choice awards for “Best FM Radio Station” and Editor’s Choice for “Best FM Radio Station.”
She and Patrick Walsh, a local DJ, now serve up a mix of underground electronic, house, dub, deep disco and indie dance.
“We want you to be able to tune in and hear your friends, acquaintances, or favorite local DJs on air,” Sutnick says. “We also want to parallel what’s going on in the music scene down here and offer as much live programming as possible.”
Finally there’s Gridlock, a relatively new entrant to the scene playing underground hip hop. The station recently got a shoutout from director Billy Corben, who Tweeted to his followers not to sleep on the outlet.
— Billy Corben (@BillyCorben) January 18, 2017
So what’s a local musichead to do with all these options? Olivares says some of the stations sometimes find themselves competing with one another.
“It hasn’t been the most collaborative environment,” he says. “It’s not a place where people really help each other, but it keeps everybody on their toes.”
But Aimee Beah Moore, the host of Local Love Live on Shake108, says there’s room enough for all of them.
“There are some noise shows, some sports shows, some heavy metal shows, we have world music,” she says. “All these stations came up just because they were needed.”
“There’s never too much music – so many tastes and different people in Miami,” she says. “That’s like asking if there are too many FM stations on the dial. I actually think it’s a good thing – it’s getting people used to streaming independent stations and not just relying on Spotify and Pandora’s algorithms.”