Gothamist woke up early Tuesday morning. Very early. To meet with the pinnacle of early morning radio, John Richards (aka John in the Morning). He is used to waking up early, we are not. Sitting in the makeshift studio on the 5th floor of the Museum of Television & Radio on 52nd Street (where John is broadcasting from all week), we asked if he is as chipper in the AM hours as he seems on-air or if he's really a bear. He replied "is that code for 'asshole'?" then admitted he's never really gotten used to the early-morning routine.
If you don't know who John Richards is we'll sum it up for you in one sentence: John Richards fine combs the earth for the best music, digs it up, dusts it off and plays it for all those tuned in to KEXP at an ungodly hour of the morning.
That's 6am Seattle time. Luckily for those listening over here in NYC, the show starts at 9am. And we do listen in NYC. In fact, Manhattan and Brooklyn were numbers 3 and 4 in a recent pledge drive held by KEXP. 30% of their pledges came from out of state.
Why are we giving money to a relatively small radio station out of Seattle, Washington? It's simple. It's saving our lives. We sit in our cubicles and the silence is drowned out by music we love. The Delays come on and suddenly the fluorescent lights overhead don't seem so bright and annoying. A live performance by Ben Gibbard airs and the next thing you know it's 1pm, time for lunch, John has just ended his morning set 3,000 miles away.
So when we met with John Tuesday morning at 7:45am EST we tried to wipe the sleep from our eyes and focus on the tough issues at hand, the serious questions, you know, like "If you were in a band what would it be called?"
"USS," he answered, relaying a story to us about a debaucherous night with friends, forming a band even though none of them played an instrument, and scribbling the band name down on a napkin before falling asleep. This story is similar to how Loveless Records began. Fortunately that idea did not end on a cocktail napkin.
While Richards admits that Seattle is somewhat sleepy, and "here (New York) you really get that drive" Seattlites and New Yorkers themselves definitely have one thing in common—an obsession with music, and John Richards feeds this obsession on both coasts. The music scene, however, differs on coasts. The NYC music scene is broad and vast. The Seattle music scene is more tight knit. John agrees this could be because of sheer size but we wonder if it's because NYC doesn't have an umbrella like KEXP to unite bands under.
So what we all want to know is, will there be a KEXP NYC? John says he hopes to set up a studio and broadcast facility here. One where bands can play live, thus adding to the in-studio performances we so often hear on KEXP. Richards says "there's more we can do here" and a studio in NYC would give the station even more of a physical presence in the city. Gothamist approves!
After all KEXP is already sponsoring shows here. Shows that the bigger, corporate stations would love to sponsor, like the upcoming Siren Festival. As well as Saturday nights show at Bowery Ballroom featuring The Wrens, Robbers on High Street and Jem. All bands that KEXP has been playing long before the bigger corporate stations. Why? Because KEXP listens to what's going on in the music scene, not just locally but everywhere, and they play what they like and what the listeners request. Because of that, stations on our dial here in NYC have been playing Dido while they could have been playing Jem and now, Richards says, "they were pissed" to have missed out on the opportunity to sponsor the above shows.
KEXP is unique. Anyone will attest to that. We asked Richards why KEXP works so well in New York and he said "there isn't anything like this on the dial here", but he also admits that there isn't anything like KEXP on the dial anywhere, and that there are pockets of support in not just New York but also DC, Chicago and San Francisco. They hope to start visiting those regions too. New York, like these other "pockets," is "passionate about music", Richards says, and willing to support it and take a chance on something new when they hear it.
Richards likes the risk takers, and not just the listeners, he mentions TV on the Radio, French Kicks, the Secret Machines. Bands he likes because they are making music that "has kind of a risk-taking quality to it." Another trailblazer he admires in the music scene - Brian Beck at Astralwerks because "he just gets it". Gothamist listens to KEXP for a lot of reasons, but mostly because we know that John Richards "just gets it", even at 6am when the rest of the world is slowly waking up.