by Stephen Miller, Editor
– The Capitol Hill Times –
Marco Collins is stomping his foot, badgering his on-air partner, Nick Greene, about why the latter keeps falling for lesbian women. It’s a lost cause, they both know. As Greene tries to explain the rationale behind his futile romanticism, Collins spins his chair, downloads a new track on his laptop and throws it into the show’s lineup. It’s a song by the band Gaytheist, and something that the two men agree on. The song plays through once and then Collins goes back on air and rolls it again from the top just to hear the guitars enter.
“That is filthy,” he says into the microphone broadcasting his show onto the endless expanse of Al Gore’s Internet.
It’s something you can get away with on a local internet radio station, especially when you’re a radio DJ who had more than a little to do with breaking the bands that made Seattle into the music town it is known as today.
But Collins isn’t breaking Nirvana over 107.7 The End’s airwaves anymore. He’s squirreled away in the Old Rainier Brewery in SoDo spinning local bands of every flavor on Jet City Stream, an internet station that held its official launch last week after streaming for the past six months.
“Commercial radio has become too safe,” Collins says, “I just want to create content that is fucking engaging.”
It’s obvious, as he answers questions and tells stories between queuing up tracks and introducing new artists, that he is cognizant of the risks of jumping on board with an online start-up. Jet City is fighting what it sees as the good fight against the corporate behemoth, Clear Channel, as well as the venerable KEXP, while also competing for traffic with the likes of Pandora, Grooveshark and Slacker (which Collins also works for).
It’s a question of what you perceive to be the value of radio, Collins says. “Is it that it is localized or that is plays hit songs?” The team at Jet City appears to be pretty dead set on establishing itself as the central hub for Seattle’s current music scene. There is a strong sentiment that the station must be given to the community, and much of its current, early marketing strategy depends on garnering the respect of local musicians.
As a song ends, Collins pulls the microphone his way and announces a call to artists to submit their work directly to the station. “You can walk your music into the radio station,” he says.
But still Collins and Greene view their roles as DJs as being more than just “throwing music at the wall.” With that model, they explain, good songs slip through the cracks. “It’s still important to have taste makers,” Collins says. A local radio station has the benefit of being plugged into the community. With the ease of recording and releasing music independently in today’s market, sometimes there’s almost too much out there and good artists get lost in the mix.
Each Monday, the Jet City group meets to decide which new music will find its way into rotation. They dig through the artists who have submitted work and come in with something they think deserves airplay. Then convince the rest of those at the table. Collins envisions the station as becoming something akin to a local Top 40, pulling out local bands’ best hits and playing them enough that they have a chance to grow on the station’s audience. “I just fucking love pop music. I like Top 40,” he says unabashedly. Greene, who previously worked for Clear Channel, does not share the passion for pop tunes, but agrees with the need for the station to pull some bands up above the din.
There are still plenty of gems to be found in the Seattle scene. Considering his proximity to the grunge scene that established the city and his continued involvement, it seems obvious to ask Collins if he thinks Seattle is reeling from, or riding the coattails of the 1990s.
“I did what I did in the 1990s, and I wouldn’t have thought that people would still give a shit,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with riding on the coattails of the 1990s grunge scene.” Today’s musicians are largely holding on to what was done here before, but are certainly moving forward. “Let the 1990s be a reference point for kids today. … You don’t want to wear it on your sleeve.”
What are important to Collins are songs, regardless of the style or size of a group’s audience. “We’re playing big bands and small bands right next to each other because they both have good songs,” he says. “I’ve been doing that since The End.”
One thing that has remained consistent with Seattle’s music scene since the grunge explosion is Capitol Hill’s prominence in cultivating the scene. Collins lived on the Hill for years during that time (he recently retired to Queen Anne), and Greene is still here.
“I remember when Capitol Hill was gay,” Collins says. Now it’s more of a tourist attraction, though he recently caught a show at Vermillion and says it “felt like being back in the day.”
As he’s discussing how the scene is evolving, Jet City’s communications director, Barbara Mitchell, walks in the studio to mention she has Ben Gibbard, of Death Cab for Cutie and who just released his own solo album, set to appear on the air with Collins in a couple days. The DJ, who sits on the board of Music for Marriage Equality, wants to talk politics on the air with the musician who also supports the cause, and there is some discussion about the direction should take, politically.
The future of radio continues to unfold.