Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The end of an era: Live365's demise means the demise of AFOS as a radio station after 13 intriguing years on the air

'What the fuck did I do?'--Antoiney McNulty

My very first blog post of 2016 was originally going to be either a piece about Electric Boogaloo, the Cannon Films documentary that's now streaming on Netflix, or a piece about Creed and why I like Ludwig Göransson's original score from that film so much that I'm adding the score to AFOS rotation. It was going to be a typically quiet and uneventful slide into the new year here at this blog, right? [Dana Carvey's John McLaughlin voice] Wrong! Live365, the Bay Area Internet radio hosting platform I've gotten along well with--it's the company that's powered AFOS for 13 years--ended 2015 with a huge announcement.

Recent changes in music licensing regulations and the end of the Webcaster Settlement Act, which allowed for low-revenue Internet radio stations to pay lower royalties to record labels than those paid by the likes of Pandora, have resulted in Live365's investors leaving the company and Live365 laying off nearly its entire staff. The company has already moved out of its longtime Foster City office space.

The future doesn't look good for Live365. The company informed its Pro broadcasters that it will allow them to continue running their radio stations until January 31. I'm one of Live365's Pro broadcasters, so that means, yes, unless Live365 is somehow saved by a new group of investors or it gets some other kind of 11th-hour rescue, AFOS is going off the air on January 31.

My response to that is this: good. It's time to call it quits as an Internet radio broadcaster.

When Tom Cruise becomes a fugitive and goes off the grid early on in Mission: Impossible--Rogue Nation, his facial hair during his shirtless pull-up bar scene hilariously makes him look like Zach Galifianakis if he cosplayed as Bruce Lee at an Alamo Drafthouse midnight screening of Enter the Dragon.

I've seen a few Live365 Pro or non-Pro broadcasters tell their listeners that they either have started to look for other streaming platform options or have shut down their Live365 streams to begin streaming independently. I won't be doing the same for AFOS. Some of the enthusiasm I had during the first few years of running the station has simply disappeared. The audience for AFOS has also disappeared, although there are still one or two listeners who holler at me on Facebook or Twitter. Why listen to a 24-hour station when other platforms allow you to curate your own playlists with ease or when you can simply YouTube any piece of music you like? (I don't even listen to Internet stations anymore. I prefer to listen to DJ mixes. The Internet has changed so much since 2003 and 2004. Those years were when my listeners were at their most responsive and vocal, so I used to do hour-long shows where I would read aloud their e-mails to me. And then one day, the e-mails suddenly stopped coming, so without those e-mails, I stopped doing mailbag shows.)

I still listen to the film and TV score albums that my station's programming is comprised of, so I've continued to update the station playlists once or twice a month to attempt to keep the station from sounding stale. But I haven't talked into a microphone and recorded original content for AFOS since 2009. I got tired of not getting paid for speaking on the mic.

I never earned a dime from AFOS, much like how college radio DJs who currently host score music radio programs (just like I did when I was a university student) or any other kind of program don't get paid by their stations for spinning music. But I never intended to earn a dime from AFOS anyway. I did all this only because I like to stream score music and I'm passionate about the work of a few film composers, many of whom are prolific (Ennio Morricone), while others aren't as prolific and really ought to be prolific (like David Holmes or, from the rugged lands of Shaolin, RZA, who's better at film scoring than acting).

I'm itching to do other things, so I'm comfortable with letting go of AFOS in its present form as A Fistful of Soundtracks. The name A Fistful of Soundtracks actually wasn't my idea; it was another DJ's, and when I was preparing to launch a score music program on college radio, I couldn't think of a satisfying program name, until my fellow DJ blurted out, "How about A Fistful of Soundtracks?" I thought that name was cool during the five years I was on college radio and was trying to figure out what to do with the program's format, so I didn't quite have a handle on the format like I did when I later joined Live365. For instance, non-score music that wasn't written for the movies would occasionally seep into the program's playlists, which is something I would never allow myself to do with the station playlists these days, and as I was trying to find the program's groove, my older brother would constantly badger me to do the program live, just like how all other college radio DJs do their programs, which I refused to do because it wasn't the kind of program I wanted to host. He was--and is annoyingly still--incapable of understanding that the kind of program I was shooting for back then is what's known today as a podcast and was closer in style to a present-day score music program like Edmund Stone's The Score over on KQAC in Portland.

But five or six years after I brought my program from college radio over to Live365 and expanded it into a 24-hour station, I grew tired of the name A Fistful of Soundtracks and was itching to change it because "soundtracks" are what stupid people call film and TV score music. Scores--which my station's format has been focusing on instead of the pop song soundtrack albums and show tunes that occasionally seeped into the college radio version of AFOS--are actually just one component of soundtracks, much like how rap is just one component of hip-hop (another component of hip-hop is graffiti) and is misused by stupid people as a term to describe all of hip-hop culture.

I've wanted to switch to a station name that emphasizes the score music format as opposed to using the broader term of "soundtracks"--I was flirting with renaming it ScoreTime for a while--but changing the station's name over at Live365 would have required recording new sweepers, and after I lost my job and have had trouble finding another, I simply didn't have the cash to produce new sweepers. The name A Fistful of Soundtracks would also make people think I'm a Clint Eastwood fan and a right-winger, and I'm actually neither (I'm more of a Sergio Leone fan). That's why I've been referring to the station as only AFOS for several years now. I like how AFOS evokes the four-call-letter names of the terrestrial radio stations I grew up listening to: KFRC, KITS, KMEL and so on (but instead of a K as the first letter, it's an A).

The upcoming demise of AFOS on Live365 frees me up to no longer be confined by the name A Fistful of Soundtracks. Ever since I joined Word Is Bond as a blogger in 2013 and included the letters AFOS in my byline at WIB, my acronym of AFOS has come to mean more than just A Fistful of Soundtracks. It also stands for All Frequencies Open, Sir; All Frequencies Open, Son; A Fuckload of Sounds; and Asians Fucking Owning Shit.

Speaking of blogging, I've become far more passionate about the blogging half of AFOS than the broadcasting half. I'm a writer, although an unsuccessful one: I applied for jobs at Gawker Media's io9 twice and was rejected both times, so fuck that site and its inane listicles (although I like the non-listicle pieces Rob Bricken and Germain Lussier have written for io9). For a few months, I was submitting pieces to the comedy news site Splitsider. But I stopped doing so when I realized it's idiotic to be writing articles for an online publication and not receiving any kind of compensation for it (WIB doesn't count; it's a blog just like this one), even though I was excited to see Desus Nice retweet one of my Splitsider pieces and I also got a kick out of one of those articles resulting in both Kumail Nanjiani mentioning my article on Twitter and April Richardson, the host of a now-defunct podcast I've always enjoyed, Go Bayside!, tweeting back at me. So while I've been trying to figure out what to do as a freelancer and I've been trying to decide between continuing to seek writing work and finding a steady job outside of writing that won't make me want to stick my head in the oven for a change, I've devoted much of my time to writing long-form, non-listicle pieces about film or TV over at this blog (Raymond C. Lai, the director of the 2012 short film At Your Convenience, which starred a pre-Fresh Off the Boat Randall Park, is a fan of my "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" pieces).

I've gained a renewed appreciation for doing long-form writing about pop culture, and while taking this blog into a different direction, I totally wasn't expecting to see Edgar Wright, Paul Feig and Advantageous director Jennifer Phang--all filmmakers I admire--retweet my long-form pieces from this blog. Neither was I expecting to see my defense of A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas become the piece of writing that would receive the most likes from my Facebook friends out of all my pieces of writing.

With this blog, I get to be the kind of pop-culture writer of color so many publications have denied me from becoming, perhaps out of ignorance and because they're just not ready to see an Asian American guy in that role. If none of these publications want to hire us, fuck them, man. We'll do this kind of writing on our own. I would like to get other writers of color with some great thoughts on pop culture to put their voices out there like I've done in regards to writing about pop culture, which is why I've been trying to get another WIB blogger, Hardeep Aujla, to discuss over at this blog some of the films we've been talking about at length in e-mail exchanges, although a busy, post-grad-related schedule has lately kept him from frequently doing long-form writing.

Due to the end of the radio station this blog was a tie-in to, the blog will be renamed in February (hint: the blog's new name will retain the AFOS acronym), but its URL will stay the same. As for running a 24-hour station, will I ever go back to it? I won't for now, but I will miss my favorite part of running such a station--other than receiving free score albums from the record labels, of course--and that was any time I was told that "You introduced me to Jerry van Rooyen" or "You hipped me to Cowboy Bebop," the most frequent comment I used to receive from listeners.

I just opened a Mixcloud account, so I've been considering giving airplay to score music over at Mixcloud as a way to continue to be a score music radio chart reporter and hopefully still receive free score albums. But I'll probably do so under a title that's not A Fistful of Soundtracks (Cue Branch and Now the Score are a couple of new series title ideas I've been spitballing to myself) and in the form of mixes like a mix I called "Ask for Babs"--my first and, so far, only mix under the name DJ AFOS--instead of the really talky hour-long shows I did for the station from 2002 to 2009.

If you've listened to the station a few sporadic times or more, thanks for listening, but after January 31, it's really time for me to move on. Sometimes the end of a chapter is actually the start of a much better one.

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