In September 2014, Hollow Earth Radio (hollowearthradio.org), the nonprofit, community-run, Internet-based music station located in Seattle’s Central District, was one of about a dozen stations granted licenses to acquire low-power terrestrial signals by the Federal Communications Commission. After streaming online for eight years, Hollow Earth would be allowed to broadcast its diverse programming as KHUH on 100.3 FM. In November 2015, the station launched a $25,000 Indiegogo campaign to help purchase a transmitter and antenna and to cover initial licensing fees. With widespread support in the local music community, it easily made its goal—and even a little more—and will be able to start broadcasting soon.
The station was founded in 2007 by Amber Kai Morgan and Garrett Kelly to provide a channel that would stream independent recordings by a wide range of underground local and international musical artists, musicians who would never be heard on other nonprofit alternative stations, let alone mainstream stations that were part of a consolidated corporate radio market. Today, Hollow Earth is a glorious amalgam of primal and esoteric music assembled by a diverse and committed team of DJs, as well as a venue for intimate live performance. It also hosts raucous, friendly, all-ages shows, and Magma Fest, its annual monthlong series of events every March that include in-studio musical performances and readings.
Hollow Earth’s studio is located inside the storefront of an old brick building at 20th and Union, a tree-lined retail block that includes Central Cinema and 20/20 Cycle, among other small, independent businesses. The once working-class African-American neighborhood has been profoundly altered by the process of gentrification, with new dining establishments and condominiums rising up on nearly every other block. Uncle Ike’s Pot Shop does a brisk business a few blocks away, its parking lot full of luxury cars on any given night. Although Hollow Earth’s presence in the Central District might be regarded by some as part and parcel of this transformation, the station has long been committed to community engagement and promoting diversity.
The music programming at Hollow Earth is an eclectic assortment presented by a confederacy of divergent but complementary DJs. Even if you follow one or more strains of contemporary music closely, on Hollow Earth you’ll likely find programs stocked with the unfamiliar. On Monday night, DJ Drone Beard hosts The Edge of the Ape Oven, a program exploring dynamic, cosmic music. Every other Friday, Jordan Leonard hosts Black Roots Radio, a show that places jazz within a broader historical and socially conscious narrative by playing neo-soul, hip-hop, electronic and funk. On Wednesdays, Corporal Tofulung hosts OC/DC or “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Compulsion: Noises, Sounds & Aberrations from Aotearoa/New Zealand.”
Other programming features storytelling, radio plays, live house shows and local in-home performances. A substantial amount of airtime is devoted to politics and social issues. On Tuesday nights, Luzviminda Uzuri “Lulu” Carpenter cohosts the #LuluNation Show, a talk show “led by queer and trans people of color to create stories that represent us at the intersections.” The show features interviews with artists, activists and “homies from around the way,” during which injustice and pop culture dominate the discussion.
This intersection of social issues and music is what best defines Hollow Earth. “Being a Hollow Earth DJ is exciting and unpredictable,” says Becs Richards, the station’s volunteer coordinator. “I’m often inspired by the work that fellow DJs are doing at the station, whether it be playing field recordings, inviting organizers in to speak, or throwing a one-of-a-kind live show.”
The station’s acquisition of the frequency, with its limited signal radius of around 3.5 miles, is further proof of its commitment to local community.“
One of the primary goals of Hollow Earth is to broadcast local, underrepresented voices and sounds,” says Kelly. “Having an FM channel, especially with the relatively small broadcasting range, will serve to make us more accessible and more strongly connected with our community.” He adds that it will be easier for the immediate community to discover the station when randomly scanning the dial in their cars.
This was, of course, the goal of the Local Community Radio Act, which was jointly sponsored by Washington Senator Maria Cantwell and Arizona Senator John McCain, and signed into law by President Obama in 2011. Opposed by major broadcast outlets that did not wish to share the airwaves in U.S. cities, the act was designed to let groups in urban areas do what had previously only been allowed in rural markets.
“The public should be clamoring for these airwaves, because they belong to us,” Kelly says. “We all sorta gave up a long time ago thinking that these frequencies...are just gonna forever be owned by people who don’t live and work here. And in response to that, we just end up turning off the whole thing, rather than tolerate this subpar, imported content. I think the growth of low-power FM stations is going to be a very big change in the American media landscape.”