Rare Air

G-Town brings quirky community radio to the Web.

By Kate Kilpatrick
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jan. 9, 2008

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House cat: Gary Hines named his show The Catacombs after a legendary underground Philly nightclub.

» Listen to G-Town Radio

Tune into G-Town radio and you might catch a flashback to Philly's house era--from the early '80s through the mid-'90s--when the same high-energy tracks fueled all-night dance binges at steamy clubs like the Nile, the Wild Cherry, Allegro and unnamed speakeasies across the city.

The host/programmer behind the biweekly Catacombs show (airing Thursdays, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.) is "45-plus"-year-old Gary Hines, who plays house classics old and new, like "Love Commandments" by Gisele Jackson or Robbie Tronco's "Walk 4 Me."

"For folks of a certain age it brings back memories. It certainly does for me," says Hines, who remains enthusiastic about his gig whether he has 16 listeners or only one. (A count on the bottom of his monitor shows how many people are logged on to their computers and tuned into the station.)

Hines is just the kind of programmer station manager Jim Bear had in mind when he placed an ad in the Germantown Courier a little more than a year ago seeking people interested in hosting their own local Internet radio show. After a series of false starts and minor setbacks, Bear says the station, online at gtownradio.com, is finally hitting its stride.

"The vast majority of the programmers came with no radio experience. Now they're getting over the hump and doing entertaining shows," says Bear.

Bear, just 34 years old, is an Internet radio veteran. Before launching G-Town he spent five years at the West Philly-based Radio Volta. There he hosted a weekly show called The Nexus which he describes as "a response to the blandness and monotony of FM radio."

Although Bear says Internet radio has traditionally catered to extremely niche musical genres, cobbling together a small fanbase of global listeners who are really interested in, say, Tanzanian hip-hop, his mission for G-Town is twofold: to play quality music not heard on regular radio, and to be a portal into the neighborhood.

"Ideally it should reflect the community," says Bear. "And Germantown is amazingly diverse; there are internationally known poets, musicians, artists and activists."

G-Town's philosophy is inclusionary. As long as the hosts have focus and ambition, they're free to play what they wish. The lineup includes a talk show on prison rights and reform hosted by Judith Trustone; a half-hour commentary show by Malcolm Cain, a politically minded 15-year-old who discusses current events from the black youth perspective; and a Sunday-evening show by Selectah's Sensistar featuring conscious roots reggae, dancehall and hip-hop from the islands and beyond. For a while on Saturday afternoons two teenage boys--a CAPA and a Masterman student--take over the rotation with a selection of songs by artists like David Bowie and Joy Division--musicians they're discovering for the first time.

"We have 15 shows on a weekly or biweekly basis, and I don't know if any two shows are alike," says Bear, who hopes to launch a call-in finance program and a sports talk-show in the coming year.

Leslie Robinson, one of the newest programmers to join the G-Town team, hosts Black and Blue--a Friday afternoon program dedicated to the sweet sounds of blue-eyed soul music.

"I started listening to [blue-eyed soul] when I was 8," says Robinson. "My mom gave me a Mickey Mouse radio, and the only station I got at the time was WFIL. They played artists like Gladys Knight and the Temptations, but they also played the Carpenters, Three Dog Night--artists like that. As I got older I started listening to album-oriented stations and groups like Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers. You could play a whole side of the album, and it was awesome."

Robinson, 43, a Germantown native and Mt. Airy resident, says it's been his longtime dream to host his own radio show. After spotting a blurb about G-Town in Philadelphia magazine, he requested a slot. "I'm about as computer-savvy as an ant," he admits, but it took only a few training sessions before he was on the air.

Although Bear says he "couldn't be happier" with the people involved, many slots are still available and the room for content is wide open. "My goal is to create an environment where people who have something to say or do can come forward," says Bear. "I don't see any direction we shouldn't be going."

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