By DIEGO JESUS BARTESAGHI MENA
Radio Free Montclair, an online, free-form community radio station, is finally officially launching on New Year’s weekend.
The project — which can be accessed at radiofreemontclair.org as well as soundcloud.com/radiofreemontclair — has existed in a rudimentary form since last year, but so far, has only had occasional programming. Organizers haven’t yet published a schedule for 2022, but they’re expecting recurring shows and continuing to build a base of contributors.
The story of Radio Free Montclair has roots reaching back to 2017, when Montclair native Petia Morozov — founder of DesignShed, an organization focusing on empowering creativity — spoke with 100 people from across the community to inform what eventually became Montclair Design Week, a weeklong series of events celebrating “how design enriches our lives in ways both large and small, visible and unseen.”
During 2020’s third annual Design Week, Morozov and members of the Radio Free Montclair project presented five preview episodes featuring residents being asked questions about Montclair.
“In our first year, we presented the design for MAIC, also known as Montclair Accelerator for Incubating Communities, a mobile hub that is equipped [with], among many things, a recording studio,” Morozov said. “This was included with the intention of recording our community where they are. With the right community partner, it’s our dream to see this come to life.”
John Sullivan, a Montclair resident, teacher and one of the founders and leaders of the Radio Free Montclair project, has been interested in community building, communications and broadcasting for a long time.
“I didn’t know if anything had ever existed before. I’ve only been in town for five years,” Sullivan said. So he put a post out on social media, looking to find out: “Would anybody ever be interested in something like this in town?”
Sullivan said the post got around 200 responses in the first few days. And from those responses, he started reaching out to people interested, asking them, “What do you want to do?” and “What do you do?”
Sullivan reached out to Scott Gurian, a podcaster and sound engineer who then became part of the first few episodes of Radio Free Montclair programming.
Gurian said the first episodes were more like a talk show than the original MAIC effort. Community members submitted questions on anything they would be interested in learning about Montclair.
“People were just asking like: ‘I heard there used to be a trolley on Bloomfield Avenue’ to ‘Where does my recycling go after I leave it at the curb?’” Gurian said. “And then we had different experts, or other people from the community, who could answer their questions.”
Gurian said the episodes were well-received by the community, which made him, along with the other members of the project, want to start ongoing, weekly programming, rather than a limited series of a few episodes.
“I think this will be really cool because Montclair is such a creative community and there’s people who have so many different backgrounds,” Gurian said. “I mean, we’re getting people contacting us like a sommelier who wants to have a wine show. Somebody who’s like a birder wants a nature show. Music shows with local DJs. All sorts of things. So, I think it’ll be really exciting.”
But creating a radio station is more than figuring out what kind of content the community is looking for, Sullivan said. He said the shows that will be created account for only 10% of the entire operation.
“I didn’t know where to go, like how we’re actually going to pull this off,” Sullivan said. “I know what I want it to sound like but I don’t know how to do it. And then Ritesh [Patel] came in as a DJ with radio.co platform experience.”
Patel, a Montclair resident, restaurateur and resident DJ at the Montclair Brewery, has been using the platform during the pandemic for a radio station in the United Kingdom. He said the platform is perfect for what Radio Free Montclair is trying to do.
“It gives you capabilities to do a lot of good programming, but it’s fantastic for community platforms because you can do recorded sessions, you can do live sessions, you can do call-ins. So, it’s a really flexible platform to use,” Patel said.
James Cotter, a Montclair resident, community organizer and political activist, has also been with the project since day one. Cotter has helped with communications, broadening outreach and looking to make sure the station represents the community.
“I mean, the wellspring of creativity that exists in Montclair needs multiple outlets,” Cotter said. “Think of the possibilities of what we can do with a radio station, you know? Music, programming, interviews, engagement, event broadcasting. The possibilities are endless.”
Marcia Almeida, a longtime Montclair resident who is a co-chair of the New Jersey Storytelling Guild as well as a board member of the Montclair-based Northeast Earth Coalition, has also been involved with the project since the beginning.
“I was thinking of all kinds of programming of what we need, and I was like: ‘Oh, this is going to be great. I really liked that idea,’” Almeida said. “My neighbor down the street, I think he’s 13 years old, he had heard me talking about the radio station and he said, ‘I could do that.’ So, we can have some time slots for the kids to express their opinion. What do they think about Montclair, from their point of view and not their parents’ point of view?”
There are other members of the community who also contributed to the project, Sullivan said. They include Jessica Fleming, a visual and sound artist and entrepreneur who helped the in-person outreach at the Montclair Jazz Festival in the summer as well as with the original MAIC recording.
Margo Bruton, founder and host of Podclair, a podcast created to share the stories of Montclair’s businesses, played a central role in helping guide the project by sharing her experiences as a local audio host and producer, Sullivan said. Rebecca Miller DJ’d DesignShed and Design Week events as well as other community fundraisers.
Sullivan is excited about the launch of Radio Free Montclair on New Year’s Day. He said the initial programming will be available the entire weekend.
Sullivan said he hopes the community likes the new project and that more people get involved to make it successful.
“I’m involved in a lot of other different parts of the town, but it’s all disjointed,” Sullivan said. “And it’s kind of like they don’t know this exists, but to pull all those neat stories and people and events and experiences together under one piece would really be showing off in a civic-pride kind of way. You have to think your town is cool and you have to be wanting to share it or else you wouldn’t do it.”
Anyone interested in being part of Radio Free Montclair can visit radiofreemontclair.org for more information.