All you have to do is spend an evening amid the throbbing beats and flashing lights of Effex Nighclub in Downtown Albuquerque or at one of Electric Playhouse’s frequent live DJ shows over on the Westside to know that New Mexico’s EDM scene is alive and thriving. Now Albuquerque is home to what is believed to be only the fourth broadcast radio station in America dedicated entirely to electronic dance music. Pirate Radio 96.7 FM has been on the air for less than a year, broadcasting from a tower at La Mosca Lookout on Mount Taylor, but it’s already garnered a loyal audience of listeners.
“New Mexico has a very supportive EDM following, and we wanted to create an audience-friendly program that appeals to everyone, and not just the EDM hardcores,” says Zaid Gonzalez, content director of Pirate Radio. Gonzalez should know, he’s been DJing and producing electronic music for three decades. “This is my comfort zone. What I hear on public programs is redundant and doesn’t offer the diverse sounds that are being produced by global talent.” EDM, he explains, is an umbrella term for house music, deep house, progressive house, bass house, drum and bass, techno, trance and other genres. “We want to offer this diversity. EDM is a lifestyle, and Pirate Radio is the only radio station providing these diverse sounds to New Mexico and abroad.”
Since it started broadcasting in December, Pirate Radio has been operated by Vanguard Media, a “100 percent New Mexico-owned” company that formed in 1999 and runs a handful of stations in central New Mexico—including the popular 101.3 The Hu$tle, which spotlights modern and classic hip hop. Vanguard owner Don Davis entered the radio business back in the ’70s when he was still in his teens. “I personally love EDM; for a long time EDM has been my ‘go-to’ for recreational listening,” says Davis.
According to Davis, broadcast radio in New Mexico is dominated by national companies like Cumulis, IHeartRadio and American General Media. These stations are “generally either fed from or directed from outside New Mexico.” Davis says these non-local stations “command, by far, the bulk of radio listening and, in particular, ‘national’ advertising revenue.” Over time Davis has seen these companies reduce their locally originated programming in favor of programming they create corporately and distribute among their many radio stations. Davis points out that, “As an early example, IHeart operates several stations in the Four Corners area and has removed all their local staff and physical presence.” Owning and operating just four stations allows Vanguard to remain what the owner calls “nimble and creative.”
“We’ve come up with a brand new business model for the station centering on true community involvement and developing and highlighting local DJs,” explains Julie Heusinkveld, who serves as business manager of Pirate Radio and came up with the station’s mix acquisition/local DJ engagement strategy. “We’re innovative and doing something different in an old media format—radio is a public good that has been decreasing in listenership over the years, and we intend to revive it through truly direct and community-oriented programming.”
“The music you hear on your dial is mixed by talented local and international DJs, including yours truly,” echoes Zaid.
“In the few months that the station has been around, we’ve heard from many in the nightlife industry that EDM is poised to take top billing for entertainment revenue and participation for a couple of reasons,” says Heusinkveld. “The most interesting (at least to me) is the positivity and values-oriented nature of the community—EDM shows have less violence, alcohol abuse and drama than either hip hop or rock events, and bookers are beginning to prefer the format for its ease. People are still partying, but at the end of the night they’re hugging each other, rather than shooting up Central.”
So far Albuquerque audiences seem to be responding to the station’s insistent beat. “Our audience response is gauged directly by social media,” says Zaid. “The responses have been fantastic! Our social media followers are growing rapidly. Fans are constantly expressing their support for the station and consistently providing positive messages about the music we are delivering.”
Check out Pirate Radio at 96.7 FM or online at pirate967.com.