The radio business can be a tough one. The Internet has upended the model of listening to radio for long periods of time, either for news or music. Fans can get the songs they want on demand from YouTube or any streaming service without having to wait through commercials or other songs they don’t care for. Radio stations have been largely hovered up by a few monopolies in the United States, but there has been a proliferation of Internet radio that wants to try and break that mold of very similar programming. Dash Radio is one of those, embracing the change with the Internet and giving their DJs a chance to play not just the hits.
For our new Industry Insider feature, we examine that dichotomy to see just how radio is being buffeted by the internet’s grasp. We chat with Gary McNealis, known on air as Gary Jamze, of Dash Radio, about how radio is adapting to the internet age. As one of the house and techno DJs on Dash, we talk about how he picks the music that makes it onto air, how to get your own start as a radio DJ and more.
Gary has two slots on Dash, including one he is just announcing. The new show will air Fridays on Dash Radio Electro City at 9pm ET/6pm PT and his other show airs on Saturdays on Dash Dance X at 4pm ET/1pm PT. They will repeat Thursdays on Electro City at 10pm ET/7pm PT and Fridays on Dance X at 4pm ET/1pm PT.
How did you get into the business?
I got into the business first through DJing. I enrolled in a DJ course at Dubspot, a production and DJ school in New York, in 2009. I then began DJing club nights and set up a weekly party. I consistently released DJ mixes on SoundCloud. After a few years and having also been spending time in the UK, I realized that I had a strong interest in dance radio. I felt that in the US, at the time, we didn't have enough quality dance music radio shows produced here that pushed a forward-thinking music policy, so I decided that I wanted to work in radio to bring a bit of that sound here. I enrolled in a Radio Production course at Point Blank Music School in London, where, in addition to learning how to produce a radio show, I met people who worked in the radio and dance music industries. I made a demo before I returned to the States, and secured a show on a college station, and then on community radio in Brooklyn. I eventually got a show on Dash Radio in Los Angeles where it airs weekly.
What drew you to electronic music over other genres?
Well in regards to radio, it was always about electronic music for me. As a dance music DJ I wanted to produce or present a show in which I could feature the music I played in my sets. I think that electronic music works well on a specialist radio format because there is often a backstory for the music, whether it be about the producer, the label, a sample, geography, etc. to speak about.
What are some of the biggest challenges of programming a radio show?
As the show is 2 hours, often I will want to play tracks that I just can't fit in time-wise. Also, choosing a track of the week, which I call Baddest Beat, can sometimes be a challenge when there are so many hot tunes to pick from. And some weeks, the promos don't come in before my deadline, so some of that music that I'd want to play can't be included. Keeping abreast of all the new music released is also a challenge, but it’s one that I enjoy.
How many songs do you get sent a week and how many actually make the show?
It varies, but I could be sent over 100 promos per week, and my show generally has room for about 28 tracks. Sometimes if a promo is received and the track doesn't make it to air in the current week, it will still eventually be played at a later date. I also receive quite a few promos outside of the show's core music policy, so they wouldn't be played.
What would be two steps someone should take if they want to get a radio show of their own?
I think it depends on the person's experience in radio, and the goals they have for the show. I'm always an advocate of doing courses, as you can learn from somebody else's experience, and be put in touch with people you wouldn't have known otherwise who could really help steer you in the right direction. Also, community radio and/or college radio is a great way to get experience. Really, if somebody wants to get a show of their own, that person should make the show, and use it as a demo. If the person is a DJ, he/she can make that demo, or they can always be in touch with a radio producer who specializes in dance music to help them. But there are many stations out there, especially in community radio that would welcome a dance music DJ who plays good music, regardless of the quality of the demo.
Who are other radio presenters that you look up to as a role model and why?
I look up to Pete Tong as he has set the bar really high in terms of what a quality dance radio show should be. Same for BBC Radio 1 DJs Annie Mac and Danny Howard, who have also built strong and trustworthy brands around themselves as presenters and tastemakers. I also look to Zane Lowe as a champion of new music, and as a presenter who has three continents of work under his belt.
American public radio presenters Rita Houston of WFUV and Jason Bentley of KCRW have become leaders in their field, and have consistently maintained a high standard in their music programming. I think Dash Radio's DJ Skee has done something wonderful in building the Dash platform online with over 80 channels, commercial-free and with no subscription fees.
Having been in the business for a while, how have you seen the economic model change over time? What are the prime financial challenges your business faces?
I've seen the steady switch to streaming and the use of streaming metrics in looking at a song or artist's popularity. Electronic music artists face challenges from streaming because they're being paid less for their work than they would have if they were selling their music physically. There's a really good Resident Advisor Exchange podcast about this exact subject out now actually. I’ve also seen the rise of DJ fees over the years, which puts a burden on promoters and clubs. I've seen the closure of some beloved clubs as well. I also think that for both the dance music industry and radio, new inventive ways to create revenue are constantly being looked at. Radio companies are using podcasts as brand extensions, for example.
Who have been your favorite interviews in your time on the radio?
I enjoyed speaking to Bristol, UK-based producers Icarus at Parklife Festival in Manchester. I also enjoyed my on-location interview with MK at one of his gigs in Philadelphia, where I traveled to do the interview. I enjoy all the interviews, as I learn so much from each artist just chatting with them.
What is a behind the scenes fact about being a radio DJ that many people don’t realize?
I don't think people realize how much thought and work is put into show productions, whether specialist music radio or non-music podcasts. The productions don't just come together on their own, and for a 1- or 2-hour audio show to sound slick and well-researched, a lot of planning has usually happened to give the listener the best experience.