At a critical moment in the movie “Airheads” (I feel I’ve admitted so much in the first eight words) the band plotting to take over the local rock radio station with toy guns is offered an opportunity to deliver its message, unhindered, over the airwaves. One of the Lone Rangers (I can’t remember if it was Brendan Fraser, Adam Sandler, or Steve Buscemi) grabs the mic and yells “rock ‘n’ roll!”
There is an ounce of that foolishness, or more, in every attempt at self-expression. All of us hijack something to communicate something that has been communicated before. At Inside Pulse Music, Broken Dial, and then Radio Exile, we were more likely to shout “independence!” or “passion!” or a simple “rad!” A good deal of what we said was celebrating the celebrated, or attacking the attacked – but we did it well, with complete sincerity, and for free.
Read more of what Broken Dial and Radio Exile co-founder, Greg Wind, has to say “after the jump”
The merits of shouting “rock ‘n’ roll,” in my mind, are not up for debate. Celebrating the celebrated can extend the footprint of worthwhile music or ideas. Using our platform to attack those who fail us is noble. We joined the chorus and even took a few solos to defend what we knew was right.
Shawn’s passionately personal “fuck it” attitude, Dan’s Outloud, James and Holly’s piercing reviews, Kyle’s Let’s Rave On (even the last one and its bitter aftertaste), my railing at the companies trying to keep DRM in the digital music equation – the list goes on… (did I mention Elie’s Tuned In? ) all worked on the premise that we didn’t care what other people said. We weren’t in competition with anyone but our perfect site. If it had been said, we were going to say it again, and in our own way. Damn if it didn’t work most of the time.
Inside Pulse Music – The Online Zine
Online publications in the age of Facebook and Tumblr are an odd concept. Not that they seem antiquated, but as if there was a designated place for thinking, and you had to apply for membership. We twitpic our breakfast. We plaster our preferences over pages. Blogging is online breathing.
When Shawn, Kyle, Jon, Toby and I started working together, the opportunity to put your thoughts in the line of fire was still somewhat unique. There was live journal and other forums for people to express their love of what they loved, but they never got to a scale that made writing for a real entertainment website seem less than special. We weren’t bloggers; we were writers. We had columns, wrote long form reviews and occasionally posted news items. We had publication schedules. We got CDs delivered to us in puffy envelopes that told us our words were worth the postage. (OK, that last part seems antiquated.)
The writers of Inside Pulse I worked with were responsible for “music.” Not just we who became Broken Dial, but an amalgamated crew with varied tastes. We wrote with people who loved speed metal and underground hip hop, and it was fantastic. No one had to cover any one thing, and the melting pot exposed me to artists and albums I still love. I wrote about Little Brother (the rap group, not the indie super group) and Johnny Cash. But changing online tastes demanded focus and speed.
Somewhere around the splintering of Inside Pulse Music into three sites, of which Broken Dial was one, we processed the existential dilemma of online magazine vs. blog and chose blog. It wasn’t a slam dunk decision. Some people (none that went with us) downright hated idea of being a blog. In their minds, comments shouldn’t be given equal weight to the article content. Some thought we were cheapening the product. I don’t know if those people changed their minds, but it’s clear to me history has proven the move to be a good one. Broken Dial was to be a blog with some vestigial quirks of an online magazine.
Broken Dial – The Blog in a Box
We were unleashed onto the world with a name we hated, ads that we had to apologize for among the hipsters, and a URL we never quite felt comfortable with (www.brokendial.insidepulse.com), but we had that white space to fill however we saw fit, and a kick ass logo that really did represent us (designed, incidentally, by the now Mrs. Smith). Shawn took the helm and attacked the opportunity with an enthusiasm and vision for what we could be. The blog format worked for us. It was immediate, and allowed a small team to cover everything we wanted without spending all day on it.
We quickly established a voice and let our ears and noses guide our writerly fingers. Our “rock ‘n’ roll” holler rang pure and loud. Even in a looser, faster format, we held on to the ethic that our words should be thought out and impactful. While praising the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs, we were not entirely unlikely to teach you something about music, or art, or life. It may have been a holdover from the Inside Pulse days, but we never threw words away. Every piece was an opportunity to say something valuable in addition to just being informative. We could have a good time with the material, but it was not in our nature to be careless. We took the job personally, and it showed.
We published more and shorter pieces and got up to blog speed on the music front as well. Digital delivery of albums made it easier to hear and cover more releases and our focus let us dive into the emerging artists of the “indie” universe. For a bunch of guys that loved being on top of what’s new, it was nerd heaven.
That was the time when music blogging was becoming a “respectable” practice, and while we were never one of the celebrated names, we were accepted into the community of reliable sources. We got nominated for awards and amassed a stunning roster of talent considering what we were paying, which was free music and what we called an audience. I even got invited to go on TV as an expert on digital music to talk about Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” launch (I’m pretty sure Shawn still hasn’t forgiven me for not doing it, but family needs won out that day). We wanted more.
(Editor’s note: My ONLY BD/RE regret is that Greg or I could have been on G4 as an EXPERT and we were unable to connect and make it happen. That they even saw the piece was awesome enough. Okay, no more interrupting.)
In fact, you could say our grander ambitions created Radio Exile. The white space inside the Inside Pulse frame was no longer enough and we were ready to bite the hand that fed us. The truth can now be told. We spent a weekend taking all of our content and saving it elsewhere in preparation for a shut down. Shawn put Inside Pulse on notice. Give us liberty or give us death.
Somehow, we got liberty. I’m still surprised by this.
Radio Exile – Running Wild
As Radio Exile, we reached our pure form. The name was chosen democratically by the staff. At the time it was a play on the perceived shackles we wore under Broken Dial, but there was more to it than that. We took the growing tree of Broken Dial out of the greenhouse and put it in a more natural habitat.
I don’t know if that change was ever obvious other than the cosmetics. I can say it felt different. We were re-energized. We felt more independent, and took more pride in ownership, even if we never fully left the Inside Pulse family (a solid foundation we possibly never gave enough credit to).
We continued to write great stuff. I couldn’t personally read fast enough. Without diving into the archive for evidence, I feel comfortable saying we sustained a years long peak. Without exactly breaking into the big time, we wrote stunning prose on the subject of music.
It breaks my heart to think of things that passed over the front page of Radio Exile without being read by everyone who cares about music. It was a feast for music lovers that not enough people found, but it was a golden age for music blogging in general. Our passion for what we covered, and fear that something great might get missed was mixed with a healthy humility. Music lovers could never find everything great being written in those years.
Our shouts of “rock ‘n’ roll” were no less pure than others. Our insights were no less valid. We participated fully in a great movement, and in the end, that is a worthwhile legacy. No one could ask more from us. We gave until it hurt, and our pride in it was its own reward.
Along the way, we each got what we needed from it. KDP left before we changed to Radio Exile. Along the way, the issues I was passionate about got resolved and nothing new sprang up that I felt compelled to fix with words. Others started their own blogs or focused on other parts of their lives. Shawn carried on for a very long time on his own, finding new brothers and sisters in arms from time to time, but now even he has found it time to put down the reins.
This end has meaning, even for those of us who ended our run before now. I still have the odd thought that seems destined for a post to Radio Exile, only to be subsumed by other things that beg for my attention. I still look up an article for reference or to show someone a thing I wrote years ago, and I still feel a part of the group of writers that fed this site with our words and passion.
This was a good thing and soon it will be gone. There are no more words being fed to the beast. The water is running down the drain. The goodbyes you see this week are a not a last hurrah but the sound of this thing dying. I have no shout of “rock and roll” for you. That is for other forums now. All I can offer is my thanks, to Shawn, the people of Inside Pulse, the writers who floored me on a regular basis with their work and the music they covered, and to the people who read what we needed to say. If we moved you at any time, I can only hope you passed it on.
Take one more look around, dig up something great and take it with you, and if you feel inspired, please do shout it out. The world needs to hear it, no matter how foolish it seems.