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How the Indie Radio Station BFF.fm Is Helping S.F. Hang Onto Its Soul

From its weird and whimsical playhouse in the Mission, BFF.fm beams out audio therapy for uncertain times.

SLIDESHOW

In March, BFF.fm hosted No Apologies On-Air, a live broadcast that included a panel discussion featuring womxn from the local rock scene.

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DJs Bill Shitski and Melanie Wilson of Transfiguration.

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Andre Torrez of Brown Recluse Variety Show.

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Will Craven with Madeline Kenney performing on I Luv Mondays.

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Thorsten Sideboard of The Highpoint Lowlife Radio Show.

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Helen Tseng (Shewolfe, left) and Melissa Graeber (Beatrix Gravesguard) of Astral Projection Radio Hour.

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Dan Pollart of Luddite Radio.

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Two witches have locked themselves in a small room, a few bare light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. Through a pane of glass in one wall, the witches can see into an adjacent hallway designed to look like a row of small buildings, where a tall man with stringy black hair, ghost-white skin, and coal-rimmed eyes lumbers by, hauling behind him a heavy black case. The witches—Shewolfe and Beatrix Gravesguard—barely notice. They are sporting headphones and chatting about crystals, full-moon ceremonies, and the nuances of tarot with Laura Ash, owner of the herbal emporium Scarlet Sage Herb Co., who is a guest on their coven-centric show, Astral Projection Radio Hour. Up next? The Hanging Garden Radio Show, two hours of classic goth and new wave.

This is but one of many strange scenes that transpire every week at the Mission district studios of BFF.fm, where more than 100 DJs rotate in and out, filling the airwaves—or, more accurately, the Internet—with music, news, comedy, pagan musings, and more music. The nonprofit station has been live-streaming radio programming 24 hours a day since September 2013 from the Secret Alley, a storied artists’ compound hidden away on Capp Street. BFF, which stands for Best Frequencies Forever, was founded by Amanda Guest, an indie music veteran. Guest started spinning records at her college radio station, WMWM, out of Massachusetts’s Salem State University, when she was 17 and came pretty close to never leaving. “I just loved playing underground music, and I knew that if I worked at a corporate station, I wouldn’t get any say over what was played. So I wound up staying at my college station forever—I was there for more than 20 years.”

When she moved to San Francisco, she felt as if she’d left something crucial behind. So she started her own online radio station—and immediately heard her sentiments echoed back at her when she put out a call for DJs. “The applications always say, ‘I stopped doing this and felt like I had a void in my life. I miss this outlet for creativity, and all I want is to get back to doing that.’”

Over the years, Guest has maintained a dizzyingly diverse lineup of talent, from rockers embedded in the Bay Area club scene (Nino Msk has a local band play live in the tiny studio each week on his show, Espresso Sesh) to passionate policy wonks who help dissect S.F. politics. The DJs are all volunteers as well as supporters, which means they’ve made a cash contribution to help keep the station running. Lily Sloane, a licensed therapist, just finished her 50th episode of the weekly show Radical Advice, on which she and her cohost answer listener inquiries with equal parts professionalism and humor. For her, BFF.fm offered the camaraderie she’d been looking for. It’s like Burning Man, she says, for people who have no interest in Burning Man. “I don’t have to go to the desert and deal with the super wealthy, fake-spiritual BS,” she says.

Guest, who regularly logs 60-hour weeks at the station, has worked without pay since the nonprofit’s inception. (Freelance gigs as a copywriter and marketer pay the bills.) BFF is also supported through listener donations, and with its five-year anniversary coming up on September 1, it has a full month of celebrations and fundraisers in the works, including a birthday bash at Bar Fluxus on August 31 and an event with Off the Grid on September 7. And throughout the month, the station will be broadcasting live from a pop-up window studio at ATA (Artists’ Television Access) on Valencia Street. It’s all part of an effort to engage a new audience in San Francisco, one that may not realize how much art is still being made here. “I think there’s a real threat to the artistic community,” Guest says, “but I also think there’s more going on than most people realize.” BFF is proof of that—in living sound.


Originally published in the September issue of
San Francisco

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