These days when I listen to the radio, it’s all NPR and college radio. These are just the only things I have appetites for anymore. But perhaps that has less to do with my changing tastes than it does the changing rock radio scene in Raleigh.
Growing up I had great channels like 96.1 and WRDU 106.1, but while the numbers and call signs may remain in some fashion or form, the great music I used to listen to is long gone.
Take WRDU 106.1, for instance. When I grew up, it played a lot of great contemporary and classic rock, and not just the same stupid song on repeat every six hours like you might get now. No, it was eclectic, combining great music with the unique personalities of DJs like Bob the Blade and Mark Arsen, host of WRDU’s classic Big Hair Show, dedicated to ’80s glam rock. Well, you can’t find that stuff on the radio waves anymore, but as with many things, the Internet is a saving grace.
A few years back Arsen, a North Raleigh resident, began doing his Big Hair show again, this time on the Internet. And after a while, he had an idea. Why not pull together a bunch of the great DJs of years gone by and put them on Internet radio? There they could do some of the things that used to make Raleigh radio great, but for an audience that spans the world. The result is Radio Free Raleigh, available now since November 2012.
Radio Free Raleigh is hosted on an Internet service called Live365.com, and while it doesn’t have quite the immediacy and duration of contemporary radio, it makes up for it with style.
“About 15 people at any one time in the world can be logged on to it,” Arsen said. “So we’re definitely not any threat to the commercial radio stations and don’t want to be.”
It’s cheap to put together, and Arsen prerecords the blocks, getting other DJs to contribute their own musical choices once a month. He’s got old-school names like Kitty Kinnin, Dangerboy, Liz Blum and even the aforementioned Bob the Blade. They record their own sets, send them in to Arsen, and he puts them all together and loads them up to Live365.com. There you can find Radio Free Raleigh by searching for the name.
“I love the idea and always have,” Bob “the Blade” Robinson said in an e-mail. “We play what we want – the way it SHOULD be.”
As for 106.1, it is now talk radio and not called WRDU, and 96.1 focuses mainly on hits. Robinson laments this loss to the Raleigh music community.
“The direction of commercial radio is basically the same as it ever was,” he said in an e-mail. “However, ROCK commercial radio has plain bottomed out in this area. The programmers in this area don’t really know or even like rock, and it’s been that way for years.”
That’s a sad change for DJs such as Arsen and Robinson who used to work at 106.1 In 1990 it was chosen by Rolling Stone readers as best small market radio station. Perhaps with the Internet, some measure of that glory can return.
Arsen said Radio Free Raleigh’s format gives DJs the freedom to choose.
“Anything as long as it is some form of rock,” he said. “I was looking for a sound that would be reminiscent of the original WRDU.”
The original came to Raleigh in 1984 and stuck around until 2006, with many changes along the way. The call signs have been switched over now to Classic Rock station 100.7, which you may remember as “The River.”
It was a big deal for Arsen to get WRDU veteran Bob the Blade to contribute to Radio Free Raleigh. Without him, the station might never have been.
“I would not have gone forward with it if he hadn’t signed on,” Arsen said. “And he thought it was a good idea.”
Blade, for his part, is both nostalgic for the past and excited about his present.
“I loved all the rock years and I still would, but there’s no place on the radio now for me except Radio Free Raleigh,” he said.
See for yourself at Live365.com.
Alex Granados writes about people, places and traditions in North Raleigh and beyond. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.