An independent online radio featuring live DJ sets, located in a shipping container on an empty piece of land on the Williamsburg/Greenpoint border — if your inclination is to roll your eyes at just how Brooklyn this is, you might want to reconsider.
The Lot Radio was founded by 34-year-old Brussels native François Vaxelaire, who has been living in the neighborhood for the past three years. After passing by the vacant triangle day after day, and growing more and more infatuated with its strange beauty, he decided it would be the perfect home for an online radio similar to those in Europe. And after getting through the city’s red tape, Lot Radio is officially up and running, save for its adjacent coffee shop and outdoor seating area that are both awaiting permits from the Department of Health.
What’s most interesting about Vaxelaire is that he is committed to steering clear of the Brooklyn cliches. His goal is to grow an internationally focused, New York-based radio, but in terms of the physical location, he wants local residents exiting the nearby church to feel just as welcome hanging out as would an experimental music aficionado. 6sqft recently visited him at the shipping container to learn more about this very unique idea.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to create Lot Radio?
I’m from Brussels, Belgium, where I studied sociology, but I was always into music. Then I moved to Mozambique, where I studied professional photography and video. I was doing documentary projects, and then returned to Belgium, but was bored. I came to New York to do a Master’s in media studies at the New School, which is where I discovered the super diverse and dynamic music scene New York has. There’s a lot of young energy. For me, music has always been my passion, but I never linked it to work. So I continued doing photography and video, but I wasn’t excited by the work.
I live in Greenpoint, and with a couple other local photography and video freelancers, rented a little space in the neighborhood. Every morning I walked by this site. It was always very intriguing to me because there used to be an old RV here. A guy stayed in it from time to time, but there was all rubbish around. My work became more and more dull, and one day six months ago when I was really annoyed, I walked by here and there was a poster for lease. I’m the last person to be like this, but I thought it was a sign. And after 15 meters, I thought, “I’m doing a radio station.”
What is it about the site that drew you in?
I was always in love with it. You can see the whole skyline, the Empire State Building, and the Chrysler Building. It has no neighbors. It’s privately owned and it was used for nothing.
Why a radio station specifically?
I listen to a lot of online radio like NTS in London, Red Light Radio in Amsterdam, and Tim Sweeney in New York. But here in the city, except Tim Sweeney which has one broadcast a week [Lot Radio streams 24/7], there’s room for more. I know so many DJs who would love to have a radio. So I decided to organize that platform and invite all the people I respect to come on board.
What have the last six months been like getting things off the ground?
For six months it was a painful fight with the city to turn what I thought was a simple, original, not dangerous idea into reality. When I started, I thought I’d just put a shipping container and figure it out. But then I was confronted with all the regulations. In New York City, you can’t have activity on a vacant land, so I had to turn this vacant land into a real land. From a DIY container, I had to put real walls, real insulated windows, etcetera, so it’s totally to code. It’s better than my apartment!
How is the coffee window going to factor in to the radio?
I wanted a super independent radio. I hate the principal of being associated with brands. In Europe it’s less strong, but here it’s so strong people don’t even notice. I just want to be about music and the people involved. So I needed to figure out a way to make the radio self sufficient. When I started to design the idea of the container in my head, I thought it would be too small for a radio studio, but then I realized that even divided in half it was still big enough. So I decided to set up a coffee stand [in the other half] where people can come and grab a drink and hang out. I did a business plan and realized that if i have an honest running coffee stand, I can sustain the radio. I was approved by the Department of Buildings, but now we’re working with the Department of Health. Everything is ready, but we can’t yet sell coffee.
Do you envision tables and chairs for the outdoor space where people from the neighborhood can sit and enjoy their coffee?
As soon as I get my permits, I want to make it clean and have tables and be a little island of chill and calm for people to feel welcome whether they’re linked to music or not. I want the mother with her kids. I don’t want to make a radio that’s too cool for school. I want a place where the programming is cool and edgy, but I want people from the neighborhood to feel welcome.
Do you think something like this could happen in another neighborhood or is it specific to the Williamsburg/Greenpoint area?
I don’t want to be a “Brooklyn radio.” I love Greenopint, it’s where I live, but I don’t want to fall into that niche. For me, we are a New York radio and an online independent radio. But the radio exists because this place is unique and magical. I can’t define it. It’s a little triangle, and you’re alone with the skyline. If I would’ve found this in Manhattan, I’d be super happy, too. I probably could’ve found it in Bushwick, but then I wouldn’t have the view. It’s ultra-local with the coffee shop and the location, but it’s ultra-global by the reach of the radio. We plan to have a lot of international guests, and we already have people listening in 32 countries. What sets us apart from any online radio is the brick and mortar location. We have a place that creates a bridge between the online and offline worlds. We have DJs coming by who aren’t even on the radio.
Has the community received the idea well?
I think people are happy that the project is not commercial, it’s not a beer garden, it’s something different. I want to prove that it’s still possible to do something different in Williamsburg that’s not a hip bar or restaurant.
The Lot Radio
17 Nassau Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11222
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Photos courtesy of Emile Dubuisson