Happy Hour on the Fringe: Global Pandemics and Art with Real Deep Radio’s Hugh Wilikofsky and Kevin McKinney
During the global coronavirus pandemic, FringeArts is pivoting the focus of our podcast to checking in with our artists, our audiences, and our community partners during these unprecedented times. Since we can’t gather, we’ll chat remotely about how we respond to this crisis, and how the role of art during a pandemic shifts.
In this episode, FringeArts Marketing Manager Raina Searles and Artistic Producer Zach Blackwood chat with Hugh Wilikofsky and Kevin McKinney about their quarantine creation, Real Deep Radio. The group talks about how Real Deep Radio came to be, how it has organically grown throughout quarantine, why radio is experiencing a renaissance, how memes can exist in the audio sphere, and the ways in which passion keeps us together in times of isolation. Subscribe to Real Deep Radio’s newsletter for updates on their programming.
Raina: Hello and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe. My name is Raina Searles, and I’m the Marketing Manager at FringeArts. In the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic, many of us, especially those in arts organizations, have had to reflect on ways to do our work despite dramatic social disruptions. One thing FringeArts is excited to continue doing is connecting our artists and community partners with all of you listening through this podcast. We’re diving into how artists are responding to the pandemic, the intersection between art and public health, and how community partners are working to meet the specific needs of their constituents. You can learn more about what we’re doing at FringeArts by visiting fringearts.com/covid-19. And as always, enjoy our conversations with some of the most imaginative people on this plane of existence.
Zach: Hi, everyone. This is Zach Blackwood, an Artistic Producer at FringeArts. Welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe again. Today, we’re talking to Hugh and Kevin of Real Deep Radio. These two met at Kenyon College and bonded over their passion for music. What started as a casual outlet to share music with friends has become a show today featuring different guests from music industry backgrounds. We’re super excited to talk to you both about kind of what you’ve got going on, the community you’re building around, you know, really cool appointment listening in 2020. But before we can get into any of that, I have to know what you’re drinking this happy hour.
Hugh: Well, I’m drinking an iced turmeric tea with some honey and lemon that weirdly tastes exactly like yellow Gatorade.
Zach: Oh, wow. And that was your plan B beverage, right?
Hugh: It was. Yeah. But I realized I was just drinking water before that.
Zach: Who did you replace? You know, this stunt on us.
Hugh: Just water. So, you know, I had to do something interesting.
Raina: Well, now there’s nothing wrong with just drinking water. As it so happens, I’m drinking water, but it has added a special Girl Scout glass. So it’s fancy.
Hugh: Important to note for sure. The vessel makes the drink.
Zach: It’s water, and it’s representation.
Raina: And Kevin, how about you?
Kevin: Yeah, I’ve got a, I’m drinking some mint medley tea bigelow and it’s out of a plain white mug. It used to like have some kind of branding on it, but it’s all chipped off. So it’s just like a plain white mug.
Hugh: Blank slate.
Kevin: Yeah. Staying hydrated.
Zach: I don’t mean to sound like an heiress to a mysterious fortune, but I’m actually having a cherry blossom milkshake.
Hugh: That is a mysterious fortune.
Zach: Yeah I, I feel actually kind of like a jerk because it’s really great. But no, I was just, I was in meetings all day today and I had an idea about making myself a BLT and then I didn’t have time to make a BLT. So then I panicked during our staff meeting. Raina, that’s why it wasn’t on video, because I was–.
Raina: Oh I wasn’t on video halfway through that because my phone just died.
Zach: I was getting French fries and a milkshake. I’m sorry. There’s – it’s so good. Speaking of so good, I’ve been having a really good time listening to Real Deep Radio. I especially liked the “Whole Lot of Labels Out There” episode. That was very, very fun. But I’d love to just kind of catch up our listeners here who might not have done their homework. What is Real Deep Radio? And can you tell us a little bit about the history of it and maybe what it is today?
Kevin: Yeah, I, I started it back in March. Just I, I’ve been trying to do some writing about music. I usually just kind of send really long emails to all my friends and wanted sort of a better way to do that. So I was trying to think like, of starting a podcast or a you know, doing some kind of like DJ set and just recording it and throwing it on SoundCloud. But it felt more useful to do something live. Mostly because I just think that things that aren’t live are easier to ignore. So I just started sort of started poking around and set up this Mixlr account. And I started with just a free trial and I realized I got like twelve hours a day worth of broadcast time and was only using, you know, one or two hours once a week. So I just started offering it to friends. And once we had enough interest, we started pitching in on Venmo to pay for it. So we have, I’d say, a good handful of people who get on every week and then, yeah, we’ve had various guests come on just once or twice and have kind of gone from there. Right now, mostly people are playing music, but we’re sort of hoping to expand to other formats. Do kind of readings or things like that. I think you have some of that cooking up.
Hugh: Yeah, I’m definitely in the process of trying to solicit a variety of different kinds of programing. But yeah, like Kevin was saying, he, he sort of started out. It’s just, it’s interesting to me how it’s kind of organically this has evolved because I think really, it sort of started as a means of, just like Kevin: said, just sharing, sharing music in a sort of more immediate way. But also during quarantine, it’s like a nice, slightly more personal means of connection, I feel like. Which is the thing I’m not sure we necessarily anticipated.
Kevin: Absolutely. I think just being able to, to I guess, yeah, share things in a way and to kind of be able to communicate with people as they’re listening has been really useful and sort of a different way of doing it than, I don’t know, Zoom calls or group chats or things like that.
Hugh: Yeah, I feel like the video fatigue these days is very real and there’s something actually really nice of just having, having sometimes familiar, sometimes not so familiar voices just sort of broadcasted into your home at sort of you know, we’re sort of working with an open format right now. So there are some weekly programming going on at regular times. But we’ve been sort of intentionally trying to keep it loose because as people who’ve done radio before, I think we’ve both experienced the way like a weekly appointment can become a chore both for the producer and the listener sometimes. And the sort of looser format has let us keep it open, be adaptive to ideas that people are reaching out to us with. So, yeah, that’s, that’s been very exciting.
Zach: Yeah, it’s really cool and I like how kind of mixed it is from day to day and what’s going on. There does seem to be kind of like an overarching culture of care around the hosting process at Real Deep Radio. Can you talk a little bit about what makes a really good radio host and kind of what you’re looking for, not just in terms of programming, but in terms of like the steward for all of that stuff for you?
Hugh: It’s a great question. I mean, in general, I think the thing that unites us and the thing that has like definitely, that I’ve seen in other people who’ve been interested in doing programming is just like a real passion about the music that they want to share. I think particularly right now under quarantine, I mean, the music industry, like all, all live art and, and also like art in general, is really under threat right now. Just in terms of like not being able to gather, not being able to collaborate in the same ways. And this has been a nice way to sort of boost and promote musicians that we love and care about, labels that we love and care about that have like really given us a lot of great stuff over the years. You know, the other week was like the first Friday of May. And for the next few first Fridays of each month, BandCamp, which is sort of like the best platform for directly supporting artists, I think out there, certainly the widest one available. They’ve been waiving their revenue fees. They usually take like a small fee from every sale from the artists, your label, just to cover their operating costs. But they’ve been waiving those every first Friday of the month for the last two months and are going to continue doing that. So just this past Friday – what day is it? God, who knows? That that past first of the month, whenever it was, we did big blocks of programming playing only stuff that was available on Bandcamp, sending out the links to everything. Just trying to get the word out either about the artists that we want to or just make sure people are aware that now is a good time to be supporting your artists. So many artists just support themselves just through touring and who knows when that can go back to normal. So yeah, I think it’s really time to step up. Think about your listening habits and try and support the artists that you care about the most.
Kevin: Completely. If I could add, like, I wrote down this quote from Rolling Stone, they had an article about, about like how the music industry is really searching to make like hits out of these very big, like happy songs. And there is a quote from this director of advertising. He said, “The brands are searching for songs of togetherness. We’re there for you supporting all the front line people.” And I think like, like you said, about sort of a culture of care, I think that I know both doing a show and listening to my friends shows has been such a source of comfort. But it is, you know, a much more interesting and unpredictable, and I don’t know, like, kind of subversive source of comfort than, you know, Spotify is like relaxing spa lounge playlist that is just kind of used to sell advertising. So that, I think has been a very cool. Like, I wasn’t expecting it to be the source of comfort that it has been. But doing radio and listening to radio has been that for me.
Raina: Yeah, I’m curious – I would love to kind of jump back because I know you talked about how you were thinking about what medium specifically to use, whether, you know, podcast or a DJ set or something else. And so I am kind of curious with the live aspect and with using radio as your medium specifically, what is it about radio that stands out to you the most besides just the live aspect? Because I know both of you also have a background in radio. Like what draws you to that medium?
Hugh: It is difficult to say. I mean, I think, I think the live aspect of it can’t be, can’t be undersold. But yeah, it really is just like a matter for me, I guess, of, not necessarily feeling like it’s you know, I’m someone who loves music, listens to music a lot, is always reading about music. So I always have, like, a lot of pent up excitement I feel like, about whatever I’ve been absorbing music-wise lately. But, you know, a lot of people just aren’t interested. I think over the years, I’ve definitely sort of like tempered the impulses I have to just like spout off because nobody really wants to hear that. So there is a way in which like, radio has been a great medium to do that in a sort of unabashed way. Yeah. That just, that feels true for me personally.
Kevin: Yeah, I think that’s– I think that’s true. And I think the, the kind of work that you get to do on it feels different. I think, you know, again, because it’s live you can’t sort of, the time you spend on it just feels very different. Like you can’t reach for any kind of perfection. You can’t sit there, like when you’re working on writing and tinker with five words for an hour and like, you just kind of have to go. And I think that’s really useful for me because it feels, it feels a lot more like I’m just sharing things with people I love than I’m trying to create some big, perfect thing every night.
Zach: I think, like as a listener, I feel like differently present in listening to radio, like there’s this exchange of generosity between, like, listener and like DJ that’s very much like, okay, I have no control over this like, sonic environment that I’m placing myself in. Like, I’m agreeing to trust this person, to give them my attention. And then what they’re giving me back is like an experience that I have very limited kind of control over. I can turn it on or I can turn it off. I can’t really look to what’s ahead. I can’t really, like, decide to skip a song if it’s not my favorite thing midway through. And it helps you to, like, see things from that person’s musical perspective differently. And that’s what’s exciting about it to me, as just like a dweeb.
Hugh: Yeah. No, I, I, I love that. And I think yeah. I think it’s like I think it’s really funny that that is such a rare thing in this state. But like just the amount of control we wield over our lives and like our consumption of media is is pretty wild these days. And I think people really value that control. But I think you do lose something in, yeah, sort of refusing to to ever receive that control, I guess. And another thing that I was thinking is that, that Real Deep Radio has sort of reminded me of is I think for for me and I feel like, Kevin, you can probably speak to this, too, because we met doing radio at college and also working on the sort of executive board of our school student run radio station. And radio, for me, has always really engendered a sense of community, I guess, because like that station, I really loved my time there and we were really a tight knit group, I feel like, and it was always a very dynamic crew. There was definitely a core of producers who are really excited to, excited to do things, excited to do a new program at the station, and then there were always new DJs coming in with every new class and that, like, new energy coming in was always very exciting. And I think I experienced that again a few years back when I was doing radio here in Philly with PhillyCam. And that is a really lovely station with some really amazing producers and programmers. And yeah, the community there is really strong, too. And yeah, maybe it’s just rallying around the dying media that engenders that sense of community. But I think we’re starting to discover that, too, with Real Deep Radio, both with like listener and producer engagement.
Kevin: Yeah, absolutely. I don’t know, like half the other producers on there probably, personally. And I don’t know a lot of the people who listen, but I feel like I’ve struck up Internet friendships with several of them. So, yeah, it really is just like, I don’t know. I think it’s been very cool. And I think you get to learn a lot about people very quickly, just listening to the– the things they pick and the way they talk about the things they pick to play. I’m really excited to start seeing people do more, or like less music-focused shows too, just to see sort of what happens with that.
Raina: What kinds of shows are you looking to add to the docket?
Hugh: We’re, we’re open to really anything that, you know, is leveraging the format well. And yeah, I personally feel very open to anyone who wants to bring – who has an idea and is excited to bring it to the air. I know I personally reached out to some friends who do a lot of like, sound art work, other multidisciplinary artists who are interested in maybe trying to organize like a, like a reading series or something. Yeah, it’s really, I mean, audio is a really limitless kind of medium, so, yeah. And there’s definitely, there’s so many things that I will not think of in terms of programming.
Kevin: I would love to get like a comedy show on there. I think that would be very fun. But I’m not funny. So kind of throwing that into the universe.
Zach: I mean, not to pitch you here while you’re captive. But I’ve been working on a great project recently where I’m just making alt-text for, like, really specific weird memes I find on the internet. I’d be happy to image-describe some memes for you, maybe as a one off.
Kevin: Yes! Why not?
Raina: Zach: I’m curious, do you have a meme at the ready that you could describe for us right now?
Zach: No, it – describes a lot more kind of prep and context than that. Because I do think, well, this is interesting. I’m gonna go off on a medium tangent. Do we consent?
Kevin: Please, yeah.
Zach: Okay. So I feel like the thing with like memes is it’s an extremely, like culturally specific, like deeply topical, deeply like reflexive and responsive form of language and communication that is completely like inaccessible outside of like visual consumption. That like it’s very hard to like describe a meme accurately while also describing like the references that are implicit within it, and like what understanding it relies on from it’s viewer. So its actually been like my main practice is like writing poetry and its actually felt like a deeply poetic process trying to describe things in order of operations both in terms of thinking, but also in order of like comedic effect with regard to like the way that a meme works and like the way that our eyes and brains digest them.
Hugh: Damn I love that.
Kevin: Yeah that’s important. That’s amazing
Hugh: Yeah, Yeah, let’s get this on air.
Kevin: I would give you a like, please we need your show.
Hugh: Yeah this is the kind of stuff we’re looking for. Let’s crack open the medium and the memes.
Zach: But yeah and I also think that like audio comedy has been like such a lovely place for me because in so many ways it feels like comedy itself has gotten much more like visual and self-referential, So to see this kind of grand return to like radio as the medium, which kind of started, not started, like that’s been going on with the podcast boom for a long time, but I really love NYMPHOWARS right now, it’s like my favorite podcast, and they do little radio plays which I’m obsessed with and then also the National Lampoon Radio Hour has been like relaunched with so many great people working within it so, I don’t know, I would love to hear about any kind of comedy show that y’all are doing because I just trust that it will be like rigorously considered and take in to account the audience and the exchange between people, that’s why you’re so cool.
Hugh: Well shucks I appreciate that. Yeah, we don’t have any comedy stuff on the docket right now, but we are definitely thinking about it and eager for people to approach us with ideas, I think. What’s been really fun and interesting I think, for me, with the sort of solicitation of programming processes, like everything about this, it’s been, it feels very organic: in that it’s just this sort of domino-ing effect of like, I reached out to a handful of people who got excited, did a broadcast or two and suddenly they were like: “hey my friend is interest-“ Like it’s just a really gradual natural growing network which has been really great to see and really sort of put into like, really made it- kind of- cleared the way– quarantine is sort of reframing ideas of community, just in the sense that it’s no longer bound by geography. That has been really fascinating to me, to just sort of experience.
Raina: Yeah I think one thing that I found really interesting about, I won’t say the pandemic, but rather the stay at home orders, is that so many of our usual forms of communication are out of use, but then there’s also a lot of things that were, supposedly dying, that are now resurging and I think you know podcasts were already on the way up, but I think radio is actually you know also on its way up and then I think about like Facebook, so when people are like “Ugh I’m done with Facebook” and now it’s kind of like, “Oh but we need to stay connected and you know have all these conversations over social media and over video and whatnot, and I am not someone who does a lot of phone calling but I think I’ve been like on my phone, or video calling with someone at least every other day during the quarantine, and I feel like it’s also, really like, opened up a lot of ways of communication, that it’s so interesting to see how it might continue on beyond that and also just like the amount of innovation that I have seen happening through different art forms, one of my like favorite shows to date was like using Zoom, and like literally used all of the features from breakout room to drawing on your screen to reactions to like put together a really interactive show, and I think that there is so much going on out there that it’s really exciting that would have never really happened because it would not have been forced to happen. And so, I think we are all kind of like adapting to this and I think there is really so much exciting things in the art world that are forming and developing through these new media or old media.
Kevin: Yeah, I think that’s completely true and it really like has kind of underscored the importance of the arts for me, I think I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few years just kind of like being like what’s the point? like I… I don’t know… I like music a lot, I like weird music, you know I like all these kinds of things, but sort of what does it do for us, and you know now that everybody, or at least a lot of people are you know isolated, and not in contact with each other and in, kind of, your usual kind of geographical way. The importance of art or music or anything that can kind of give you a connection to somebody is like very apparent , and so that’s been kind of a helpful reminder.
Hugh: Quarantine has also for me, like it’s great to see the ways artists are adapting because artists are—just like the– the most adaptable, always working with super limited means and always cracking everything open… but it’s really interesting also to me… I feel like my relationship with art has been reframed by quarantine, particularly music, in just like my listening habits have shifted so drastically I now have more time to actually commit to listening and not like listening while cooking or listening while writing or listening while doing something else, like I can just sit and really take in a full album, and also just noticing that what I’m listening to has changed in a lot of ways, I have been diving into a lot of field recording stuff, and I think there’s an element of that yearning to be outside and In there, but also with the sort of deeper listening practices… that I feel like I have been developing, suddenly you can like inhabit more formalist forms of music I guess in a way that is a lot harder to access when, you know, you are living in a city and running around all the time and working and whatnot.
Zach: So you were saying earlier that you just hope that people kind of take a moment to really deliberately like reexamine their listening habits and kind of the impotence behind those, is that like kind of your major call to action from your audience or is there more in there from Real Deep Radio, not to say that’s not enough! I think that’s great!
Kevin: You Know… well… I don’t know… that’s a good question. I think that’s a big part of it, but I think it connects to everything.
Hugh: Yeah I think like in general the things that have defined Real Deep Radio for us thus far have been a sense of comfort and companionship I guess for us and all of our friends who we share music with. Yeah more the call to action element I guess has really been that idea because we have been so music based thus far, our focus has really been on highlighting parts of the music world I guess that like we feel maybe don’t get enough credit or just like labels and artists. The only call to action that we really have thus far is support the artists that you really care about, the ones that you listen to a lot, because even though streaming is, you know, imperfect, but like one of the best ways that artists are getting revenue these days, that revenue is like so negligible now that tours are cancelled for the indefinite future. So if there is anything I want to impart in terms of action to listeners, it’s just think about your listening habits, the artists that have been valuable to you, whose work has been really valuable to you, and throw them a few bucks. I mean I definitely during these Bandcamp days have just been going through like streaming histories, and like download histories, and just seeing like what stuff I listen to the most, things that I maybe have listened to like hundreds of times already but never ended up paying for, definitely going back and making up for that
Raina: One quick question that I think we have usually already asked by this point: why the name Real Deep Radio?
Kevin: Shoot why the name Real Deep Radio?
Hugh: You were the one who pitched it I think Kevin.
Kevin: I did, I just picked it but I don’t know why. I feel like it’s just kind of an inside joke, I’m always talking about art as being either real deep or fake deep. So I think it was just sort of a joke in a way.
Hugh: Yeah, I mean I– when you– when he pitched that I think– I feel like I had thrown out “What about ‘Real Deep Fake Radio’” because it is technically fake radio: it’s on the internet. But having deep fake in our name, you know, you worry that you might be courting the conspiracy theory crowd, which isn’t necessarily what we wanted to do, or just not really our target audience, they are going to be disappointed. Until somebody pitches a conspiracy theory show to us.
Kevin: Yeah I was going to say we should get like Coast to Coast AMto do a show.
Hugh: Oh god.
Kevin: Yeah, I don’t know if there is anything particularly ‘real deep’ behind our name
Hugh: Yeah, but I do think something that’s been true for everyone who has done programming thus far is there is care and a depth of knowledge I think. It’s been great in particular to have like friends who run labels and stuff and who are really tapped into artist networks to like go on because they really can like illuminate things in some ways that I feel like I personally can’t, being—you know I absorb a lot of live music and like I read a lot, but like you know I have not been on a tour or anything like that, I have not like lived that lifestyle and been fully immersed in it. So yeah that’s been a really great thing and I think maybe that’s our like, sort of our reverse engineering of why Real Deep Radio is called Real Deep Radio. That’s my reverse engineering anyway.
Kevin: Yeah I think that’s perfect. I think… Yeah…. Just the level of like care and sincerity that goes into what people are doing is real deep to me
Raina: Awesome. Well our last question usually takes a little bit of a different form around your high-brow and low-brow inspirations. Since we’re kind of in the middle of this quarantine what I’m curious about is what song or songs are just on repeat in your head, what are you like actively listening to in a constant stream 24 hours a day?
Kevin: I have honestly been jumping around like a lot, kind of, but I feel like I have gone through several phases already. I have been listening a lot to an artist named Claire Rousay. She’s put out, like I don’t know how many albums this year, she’s put out a huge amount of music already this year. She’s a improvisor and percussionist and works a lot with like sort of very close and intimate and almost household sounds and also will use recordings of her talking and her friends talking and like sort of weaves this whole thing with memory and place and location and I feel like that’s been very important for me being sort of so much in one location, and yeah like the spatiality of her music has been very important. I’ve also been listening to just like Gram Parsons. I don’t have very much to say about him except that he’s good.
Hugh: Always reliable. An artist I have been listening to a lot is a guy named Paul DeMarinis who was involved in a sort of a community of composers based around like the music program at Mills College back when Robert Ashley was running it. And recently a lot of Paul DeMarinis’ early work has been reissued, or just like really all of his work… reissued by a great label called Black Truffle. They put out an amazing retrospective of his stuff called “Songs Without Throats” last year, and they just put out this crazy collaborative album called “She’s More Wild” that he had done with a bunch of artists who are all at Mills College… back in the 80s. A piece that was part performance art, part music. I think they premiered it at The Kitchen back in the day, but it had never been released before widely and just came out last month and that has been on constant repeat for me. Really just like funny, strange, playful and absolutely out there experimental music, incredible electronics and really funny storytelling built into it all.
Raina: Great, well thank you both so much for joining us for this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, you can find FringeArts on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram and download the FringeArts app or visit FringeArts.com. To everyone on the call and to all of our listeners at home, stay safe, stay well and stay positive.