By Gary Wien
Blowupradio.com is an online radio station / local music news resource that recently celebrated its sixth anniversary. The website and station is run by Lazlo, a former DJ at Monmouth University's WMCX and the Dover station WDHA. What makes blowupradio.com so unique is that the station only plays music from New Jersey artists. So if you're interested in learning more about the local music scene, there's no better starting point than here. The radio station launched on Live365 on December 15th, 2000 and the website was started a few weeks later. We spoke with Lazlo about the website and its six years of operation.
This is the sixth anniversary of Blowupradio.com -- how does it feel to have been doing this for so many years?
It's funny, six years went by so fast to me. Last week I was looking back through the BlowUpRadio.com archives of interviews, live performances that my wife and I recorded, CDs I've been given, and scrapbooks full of postcards, flyers and assorted stuff I've amassed over the last six years, and a lot of great memories came back to me. Day to day I don't think about how long I've been doing this, it's just become a regular part of my life, but going through all that stuff, and thinking about all the bands that have formed, broken up, changed line-ups, and in some cases changed their sounds, how much the local music scene has changed, how the internet has changed, and how my life has changed...it's all pretty amazing. I feel pretty lucky to have been a part of all this for the last 6 years, and look forward to continuing to do it for years to come.
When you started it, did you ever imagine blowup to become such a solid force in New Jersey music?
Is BlowUpRadio.com a "solid force" in New Jersey music? Honestly, I started BlowUpRadio.com in December of 2000 for two reasons. I was still working as a part-time DJ for a commercial radio station that I was no longer happy being at, and I wanted a new creative outlet, where I could choose to play music I cared about, rather than have to play bands, that increasingly I wasn't enjoying playing, and having to say nice things about them. I was already friendly with a few local bands because I have been going to see local bands since I was 18 and could get into venues, but getting my friends to go with me to shows was always a struggle because they didn't want to take a chance on seeing a band they didn't know if they'd like. They were fine seeing bands they'd heard on the radio though, so it hit me, why not do a station that just plays local indie bands. It just so happened that around the same time that I was thinking this, I learned of Live365, and how they hosted internet radio streams.
Getting back to your question though, I never imagined BlowUpRadio.com would be anything more than something I would do for myself, and hope that maybe a few people would stumble upon it and listen. When I first started, I didn't even have a website, it was just a little 2 hour repeating webcast. About a week into doing the webcast, I decided to send an e-mail out to about a dozen bands I had heard over the last few years, and let them know I had started this webcast. The response was overwhelming, with several bands whose CDs I did not have, sending me their discs. I had also e-mailed Al Muzer, who did a very nice write up on my webcast. It was at that point, in early January 2001, that I registered BlowUpRadio.com as a website, and put up a bare bones 3 page site, using web tools, that listed band links, concert calendar, and how to get to the webcast. I also took an on-line class on HTML, so that within a few months I was able to turn the site into something more...although 6 years in, I am still never happy with my HTML knowledge, and always try to make the site better.
When it first started did you only broadcast music from Jersey bands? If so, what led you to create the station that way?
The station has always been just about NJ bands, with the exception being Lazlo's Den (which came a year or two into BlowUpRadio.com's existence), which gives me the opportunity to play all sorts of good bands from around the world.
You have been part of many shows throughout the years, what were some of your favorite performances? Who were they and when and where did they take place?
Wow...this is a tough question, because I never want to leave anyone out. There are so many great musicians I've had the opportunity to see over the years, that trying to pick some of the best would be hard. However, here are three more recent shows I've worked on that I am very proud of.
May 22nd, 2005 at the Stone Pony - My wedding day. Naomi, my wife, knew I was not the type of guy who wanted a typical wedding, but when she suggested we get married at the Stone Pony, I honestly thought she was kidding. Two days later I realized she was serious, and we had a great wedding (despite the rain), which included performances by Souls' Release, My Pocket Zoo, John Taglieri, and a karaoke band made up of members of Bastards Of Melody, Six To Eight Mathematics, and The Heshers (which allowed me to fulfill my fantasy of singing "Born To Run" on the Stone Pony's stage). We even had an after-party at the Berkeley Carteret's Oak Room where Mazeffect, Grover Kent, Maybe Pete, and High Speed Chase, continued the party. That is definitely up there as one of the best days of my life.
August 19th, 2006 - The Black River Music & Art Fest. Back in January of this year when my friend Alan Tepper (from My Pocket Zoo, and Fragile Planet), asked me if I wanted to work with him on an outdoor music fest to take place in Chester, NJ, I said where the hell is Chester? After I figured out where this Stars Hollow-esque place was, Alan, my wife and I, spent the next 7 months making this festival a reality. 21 bands on 3 stages, it went off with very few problems, and we got an estimated 6000 people to come out to hear a bunch of indie NJ bands! It felt so good to not only have the show go off well, but to help spread the music I love to so many new people.
September 21st, 2005 - Banding Together: A benefit for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. This was a webcast show, and not a physical live show, but was very fulfilling for me to do. I have always made it an important part of BlowUpRadio.com to be involved with benefits, I've organized or been involved with benefits for the victims of 9/11, Toys For Tots, Tsunami victims, cancer organizations, among others, but this was different. There were several Hurricane Katrina benefits already being planned, so I decided this time a radio show might be a good idea. So I contacted pretty much every NJ musician I knew, and asked if they could send me a "donate now" PSA, and a live song, preferably acoustic, that would fit the mood of a benefit for the victims of this tragedy. The local music scene responded in a larger outpouring than I could have hoped for, with the final show running nearly 3 hours, with 33 artists contributing PSAs and live recordings. And having the show run simultaneously on BlowUpRadio.com, Upstage Radio, and 90.5 the Night, just meant that more people would hopefully be able to hear not just the wonderful music, but also the pleas for sending donations to charities to help the victims of the hurricane.
If you had to pick 5 songs, what would be your top 5 Jersey songs from the last 6 years?
I can't answer that. My top 5 anything changes moment to moment. Even the 3 shows I mentioned above, if I was asked the question tomorrow, I may list 3 totally different shows.
Who were some of your favorite bands that broke up during your run at Blowupradio?
There are so many good bands that have broken up over the course of the last 6 years. Just taking a glance at my CD collection: SSRi, My Pocket Zoo, Highway 9, Small A.M., Planet Janet, The Blakes, Kid With Man Head, Boxcar Nancy, Circlesquare, Evelyn Forever, The Secession Movement, The Atom Beat, 383 Stroker, ClearShot, Skyline Rodeo, blowup., the Lawndarts, Little T & One Track Mike, Mars Needs Women, No Soap Radio, Red Engine Nine, Steel Pier Sinners, Where's Mary, among countless others that I probably just glanced past on my wall.
About how many records from Jersey artists would you estimate you receive each month?
It varies, but I'd guess, strictly from NJ artists (and not including the stuff that comes in for Lazlo's Den), it would be somewhere between 10 and 20 CDs a month. It amazes me how many bands there are in NJ, and even more so, how most of them are actually really good! I get very few out and out bad CDs. Some of them may not be specifically my type of music, but I can still hear the talent there...and that's something I should point out, that even if a CD isn't exactly my cup of tea, but I think someone else might like it, I'll play it on BlowUpRadio.com. I may play more tracks from an artist I like, but I keep an open mind and will play almost every NJ band that sends me stuff (I have had to make exceptions when the quality of the music was so bad that it was practically unlistenable). Listeners to BlowUpRadio.com can vote on the Live365 player, thumbs up or down for every track played, and I look at the results to see what people like and dislike and adjust the playlist accordingly. So really, the listeners have a much greater say in what I play on BlowUpRadio.com than most stations.
What's the best way for a band to attract your attention from the others in the mailbag? Is it a great press kit? CD packaging? Buttons, t-shirts or other "gifts" included?
Sure "gifts" are nice, and I do tend to wear band shirts out everywhere I go, but really it's about the quality of the music on the CD. I listen to every CD that shows up (although sometimes it takes a week or two). It's also nice to have a little bit of information on the band, a bio, press kit, whatever, although I tend not to read that stuff until after I have listened to the album, mostly because I don't want anything to taint my opinion one way or another. If I were to read a band's bio and they said they were influenced by Creed, not being a fan of Creed, I'd already have a negative feeling towards the album before I listened to it. But if I listen to it first, dig what I hear, and then see that they are influenced by Creed, I'd be able to say ok, they were influenced by a band I don't like, but their music is good.
The most important thing to remember to include when you send a CD, is a tracklisting. Often when I get a CDR, it will not include the track titles, which makes it difficult for me to play on my station, except to call it "track 1". So please, if you send me a CD, make sure to enclose a tracklisting (if it's not already on the CD or case).
By the way, my mailing address to send CDs to is:
P.O. Box 664
Old Bridge, NJ 08857
Online radio is thought to be the future by some people and a hobby to others. What keeps you and blowupradio.com going?
I don't know that my station is that large, or even if it has that large a listenership compared to other internet stations, I just know that the last six years of my life doing BlowUpRadio.com, have been the best years of my life. I have so much fun doing what I do, and have made some great friends in the process. I look forward to many more years of supporting New Jersey's local original music scene as much as I can.
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at email@example.com.