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It doesn't take much to get DJ Affect, a.k.a Ari Kalimi, to hold forth on the ills of the FM dial. "Regular mainstream radio sucks," he says flatly. "I don't know what FM radio is anymore. It's like programmed radio, or a very small MP3 player stuck on repeat. That's FM radio."
Affect's disgust with the local airwaves hit a boiling point six months ago, when he fell ill and had to spend a week in bed, with his radio on. Frustrated by the numbing repetition he heard on local stations, he decided to launch his very own Internet radio station that week, using his laptop and a pair of turntables.
Early on, the operation, dubbed W305.com, was headquartered in Affect's bedroom closet. These days, he operates out of a suite of offices overlooking Washington Avenue on South Beach, and claims more than 100,000 listeners a day from Canada to Beijing. (To sample the sound, just check out www.W305.com, or www.myspace.com/W305.)
The station, which specializes in hip-hop and R&B, is the latest in a long tradition of alternative radio sources. Back before the Web revolution, Dade County was renowned for its pirate radio stations, such as Hot 97 and Hood Radio with DJ Raw. (Thanks in part to its flat landscape, South Florida has been referred to as the pirate radio capital of the United States.) The problem with these D.I.Y. operations is that they're illegal and the FCC has a nasty habit of shutting them down. In one infamous four-day period back in the summer of 1998, the agency raided more than a dozen.
Internet stations, which use a wireless connection with unlimited bandwidth, are free from FCC restrictions. That's been good news for Affect, and Phil Cardona (a.k.a Phil the Mayor), the man who helped Affect launch W305.
"Right now we're catering to the average worker, the nine-to-five person," Cardona says. "But the way technology is going, overseas, they have car radios with Internet radio, they have boomboxes that you could walk on the beach with and listen to Internet radio." As the technology expands, he predicts, the station's fan base will too.
The station already has a partnership with JPEG Music Group, a local record label. Last month, it managed to snag some top out-of-town talent: hip-hop legend DJ Clue, renowned for his gig on New York's top urban station, Hot 97 (WQHT-FM 97.1), as well as his stint as a tour DJ for Roc-A-Fella Records. Clue and his partner in crime, DJ Storm, pump the tunes every Friday night for W305 on their program Desert Storm Radio.
Affect, a 24-year-old Miami Beach resident, is himself no stranger to the world of big-time DJing. Coming up, he did stints on radio stations like Mixx 96 (96.1 FM) and The Luke Show on 99 Jamz (WEDR-FM 99.1). But he did most of his spinning at the South Beach clubs. In fact, he was something of a prodigy. At age fifteen, he was using a fake ID to get into the hotspot Cream, where he manned the DJ booth. In the mid-Nineties he toured with hip-hop ensemble First Platoon. He has since held residencies at many of South Florida's premier clubs, including current gigs at The Forge, Mansion, and Ink, and performed with hip-hop superstars such as P. Diddy and Mobb Deep. The revenue he generates as a performer has provided the seed money for W305, though he hopes ad revenue will eventually subsidize the operation.
Catering to the club crowd usually requires a standard rotation of records that will keep patrons dancing. But Affect has always felt that radio should be a medium that lends DJs the freedom to play songs of their choice and break new artists.
In contrast to the computer-generated play lists that drive commercial stations, the DJs on W305.com are free to play and say whatever they like. "It's good, uncut hip-hop," Affect says. "You never know what someone is going to say next, it's all real. You won't hear the same song twice in one day."
The shows on W305 do have designated musical specialties, but they sound more like a pastiche of music, live phone calls, and uncensored talk from the hosts. At any given moment, the host might segue from the latest Trick Daddy track into an irreverent debate over who has the best seafood in town, or if Al Qaeda suicide bombers can really handle 70 virgins.
On a recent Thursday night, Bo Durty, the station's resident purveyor of crunk, settles in at the studio for his biweekly Greasy Show. Durty syncs up his iPod, and launches the intro to his show, a bass-heavy instrumental of Lil Scrappy's "Money in the Bank," over which he offers exuberant shoutouts to his favorite local neighborhoods. Within fifteen minutes, the lines are jammed with calls from around the country, most hoping to give a shoutout on the air. Durty keeps up a frenetic pace, alternating trunk-rattling anthems with an exuberant patter that includes rumors unlikely to show up in the pages of the Herald's Metro section. His show sounds more like the free-form radio of the Sixties than anything you might hear today.