You might not think of New York City as a hub of vital independent music radio. It lacks the reputation of, say, London, famous for underground pirate stations, RinseFM, and the BBC’s behemoth taste-making operation. But look closer and the city reveals a wealth of discerning radio programs on airwaves and streaming platforms. Chief among these is Newtown Radio, an internet station making waves in the outer boroughs and beyond.
Though the internet has allowed radio to expand beyond geographic limitations, online stations still play important roles in nurturing local scenes — they highlight rising artists, promote shows, and contextualize disparate sonic threads. Since 2009 Newtown has done all this and more.
The Brooklyn-based broadcaster’s stated mission is “sharing the great music that the neighborhoods around Newtown Creek — Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Bushwick, Long Island City, Ridgewood — create and enjoy.”
This means offering a wide variety of programming, with dozens of regular DJs and an omnivorous approach to music and talk radio. Tune in on their website and you’re liable to hear anything from garage rock to obscure African funk to “Cock Talk,” which offers “a heaping portion of sexual shenanigans and cultural affairs” along with “dirty south, trap,” and “finger blasting tunes of the Nineties.”
Besides streaming tunes, Newtown is heavily involved in the fabric of the city’s concert scene. Co-founder Colin Ilgen tells me about a “a huge show” the station threw with Dirty Beaches, Black Marble, and Widowspeak back in 2012, which “totally sold out.”
“I was just told last night during our set someone got a hand job on the couch at Shea stadium,” tweeted Dirty Beaches the next day. “Good job to both the giver and receiver!”
Ilgen fondly remembers another milestone in the station’s concert history: a 2011 Northside Festival showcase he helped curate with Laurel Halo and Autre Ne Veut which got written up in the New York Times.
“Presented by Newtown Radio…[this show] was one of the festival’s most promising, with a host of acts that toy with a mix of strong melody and purposeful obfuscation,” gushed the Times‘ Jon Caramanica.
“[The artists] were just getting started, and they blew up after that,” recalls Ilgen. “That was really fun, to see projects we’ve been working on get exposed and received well.”
It’s an illustration of what makes underground radio stations important: They amplify (literally and figuratively) signals, allowing underground talent to reach the right ears.
In the years since, Newtown’s concert profile has grown. This summer they reached what Colin considers one of their biggest milestones yet, teaming up with MoMA’s PopRally program to help curate the museum’s MoMA Nights concert series every Thursday in August.
“They reached out to us and gave us a budget,” he explains. “We generated a list of artists to be considered and they were voted on by the museum. We also get to open each of the shows with a DJ from the radio station, so that was really fun to pair the artists with DJs that were sonically interesting together.”
For the first show on August 6, MoMa and Newtown presented Galcher Lustwerk, alongside Newtown DJ Willie Burns. Lustwerk is one of Ilgen’s favorites. When asked to pick the city’s most exciting up-and-comers, he’s quick to name the gritty house prodigy, along with J. Albert and the White Material record label. He notes that Lustwerk’s tunes garner a lot of spins on the Monday morning Newtown Radio show “LEVEL RADIO,” which offers “deep talks and deep cuts with DJ Andrew Devlon.” It’s a good example of how the station combines internet streams with live events to support the local electronic scene.
After shows with Regal Degal and Lower Dens (supported by Newtown DJs Stadiums & Shrines and M/M respectively), MoMA Nights concluded on August 27 with indie popster Tei-Shei. Ilgen is excited about the Newtown DJ opening, who goes by DJ Lomé. “She’s got a new show called Leisure Suite, its really cool R&B. I thought it would be great to have her play the final one.”
It’s a promising end to the latest chapter in Newtown Radio’s journey. What’s next? “Exciting things that I can’t comment on quite yet,” notes Ilgen. Not to worry — we’ll be streaming, sharing, and dancing to them soon enough.
For Newtown Radio’s September 4 show with Painted Palms, Salt Cathedral, and Maxo here.