By Jennifer Maerz
I know that for lots of folks, music streams down from some magical cloud service, but I’ll be forever loyal to my local underground radio station. Call me old-school, but I like getting turned onto music by a real human nerd, not the computerized version – someone who can tell me about upcoming shows, get more San Francisco acts on my radar, and generally get me turned onto the really good shit. We lost my favorite free-form station, KUSF, a couple of years ago, but this city is slowly becoming flush with Internet radio stations hosting alternative programming. The one that’s really grabbed my ear is the indie-, electronic- and garage-leaning BFF.fm, a fledgling online station hoping to become San Francisco’s home base for underground and obscure sounds across genres. I should also note that Queen DJ Cosmic Amanda (a.k.a. Amanda Guest) and crew broadcast out of one of my favorite creative hubs in the city – Secret Alley. I mean, really, what better place to feel like an eternal fanboy or fangirl about music than in a loft that looks like the San Francisco set of a Peter Pan movie?
The Bold Italic hired Cosmic Amanda to DJ at a boat party we hosted during the Treasure Island Music Festival. The week before, Amanda showed me around BFF.fm’s headquarters within Secret Alley, where we bonded over the fact that she’s using a giant Oh Sees patch as decoration (they’re one of my all-time favorites as well). She explains that the tagline for her station is “the 24-7 mix tape you send to a friend,” and BFF.fm’s mix includes specialty shows in UK alt-rock, experimental electronic, and garage rock. Basically, BFF.fm is run by volunteers who, like Amanda, are “zeitgeist chasers” in whatever genres they geek out about. You can tune in to the station 24 hours a day, seven days a week, although the live programming runs only between 4 p.m. and midnight most evenings.
She also explained the story behind the cool old map on the wall, which she picked up secondhand. Before she bought the map, someone marked three cities on it – Salem, MA, her hometown, and where she earned her chops in community radio; Denver, her husband’s hometown; and San Francisco, where they both moved a year and a half ago. The map is just one of many serendipitous coincidences Amanda likes to talk about. The fact that she’s renting space in Secret Alley is also a mix of luck and chance. After ogling photos of the architecturally inspiring loft online, she went to a party there in June and saw a “For Rent” sign on one of the hand-built offices. She immediately applied. Secret Alley’s founders were so excited about the concept they now play BFF.fm over the speakers. I hear it coming faintly from different rooms as we walk around. “Everyone who comes into the station finds the space magical,” Amanda says. “It goes a long way in attracting serious community-radio DJs.”
After hanging out with Amanda for an afternoon, I started fantasizing about pitching her on hosting a show myself. But I’m not the only one to catch her enthusiasm for the station. Amanda tells me she’d planned to launch in September with 10 DJs but ended up with 25, including SF radio vet Dennis the Menace and bloggers from Burrito Justice and SFist. It only makes sense that the station is named BFF.fm – yet although the exact title is Best Frequencies Forever, not Best Friends Forever, it’s quickly creating musical bonds between people. Her goal is to make the station synonymous with San Francisco, and, to that end, she’s inspired by the strong collective spirit that’s part of starting something in this special city. “When it comes to community, San Francisco isn’t like any place else,” she says. “People are so much more collaborative here than any place I’ve lived before. People further themselves by bringing others with them.”
To that end, Amanda is looking to continue bringing on new volunteers. You can apply to DJ online, but Amanda tells me that the biggest trait she looks for in people is the ability to develop a bond with everyone tuning in. “Radio inspires a direct relationship between the listener and the DJ,” she says. “By listening, people are allowing you to connect with them.”
Wanna help celebrate BFF.fm's launch? They're throwing a party at Bottom of the Hill on Wednesday, Nov. 27. All the deets here.