The best radio show not yet on radio
It was late in the afternoon on the last Friday in April, and Reed Lochamy and his brother Will were hanging out in the basement of Reed’s house, in Bluff Park. The basement’s shelves were lined with various musical instruments; on one wall there was a poster for a Velvet Underground album that prominently features Andy Warhol’s depiction of a banana. An ancient TV displayed a golf tournament, its sound muted. Reed fiddled with the settings on a digital audio recorder to his right. “Brethren,” a song by Birmingham songwriter Wes McDonald, started playing softly from a pair of headphones on a table between the two brothers. An illegal alien sat across from them, a microphone in front of his face. Reed had given him a code name: “Tim James” (more on that later).
All was silent until “Brethen” reaches its first chorus. Will spoke into his microphone.
“A very full week is beginning at the Brandon Brown and Country Western Delight studios, Reed,” he said, jokingly referring to Reed’s basement as a studio named after a cover band the brothers played in together. “We’ve got a ton of stuff going on, and we have to because we’re off next week.”
“Yeah, next week there’s no new shows,” Reed said his voice considerably deeper than Will’s. “But we’re going to try and cram as much into this week as we possibly can.”
And so began another recording session for Reed and Will’s comedy podcast, Oh Brother Radio. The show is a hobby for the brothers, who are both busy folks. Reed, 33, is a sexual assault prevention educator and a graduate student. He also hosts two trivia games a week—one at Steel Urban Lounge and another at Innisfree Irish Pub, a Lakeview bar that Will manages. Will, 29, has a family and a second full-time job running a lawn care business. Despite their tiring schedules, they manage to meet once a week and tape a show that is creative, funny and entertaining.
They make time because they enjoy it, but also because they have grander ambitions. Although the show’s tagline is “The best radio show not on the radio,” the Lochamy brothers really want to be on the radio.
“For like two years we talked about trying to get a talk show,” Reed tells me during a lull in their recording session. “Our dad used to do talk radio, he used to be on the Paul Finebaum show or whatever. And so we thought, ‘Well, surely, if anyone can get a radio show, surely we’ll be able to because we have these connections or whatever.’” Will even has experience with broadcasting. He once jockeyed the Will the Thrill Show, a Friday night love-advice show on a local pop-rock station called I95. If you haven’t heard of that station, it’s likely because Will was eight years old when he did the show. As Will notes, that was a time before iPods, when people actually listened to the radio.
Things have been tough for radio stations recently. According to a 2009 press release by media consultants BIA/Kelsey, 769 radio stations were sold in 2008 for an estimated $769 million dollars. In 2002, the exact same number of stations was sold for $5.4 billion. Radio stations have become less and less valuable and conglomerates like Clear Channel Communications have consolidated the broadcast market, making it difficult for those wishing to break into radio.
Reed offers that idea to me in terms a writer would understand, but was cut off. “And boy,” he says, “just the same thing that’s happening with the print media—“ At this point, without a notable pause, his brother jumped in. “It was just the worst time,” Will says.
Reed and Will often step all over each other’s words (well, honestly, Will does most of the stepping). That sibling dynamic is one of many unique aspects of the show. Though it’s not a primary topic of conversation during the show, Reed and Will’s kinship is noted in the program’s title, of course, and alluded to in “Brethren,” the show’s theme song. Whether the sentence-completion tendency is a remnant of some childhood sibling competitiveness or something else entirely, it’s entertaining when it pops up. It happened again when Reed was discussing the show’s original format.
“Our first concept for a show was to do an advice show where me, coming from a social service agency—“ Reed began, but Will steps in. “Him being an actual expert, and me just being a bartender who has to talk to drunk people all the time,” he says. “We were going to do a relationship advice show,” Reed says, completing the thought.
As the concept of Oh Brother evolved from an advice show to comedy, so did the format. The Lochamy’s asked a friend, a radio adviser, how they should move forward with their radio dreams. He suggested they make a demo in the form of a podcast. Their first demo was two hours long, which prompted a novel idea from their friend.
“The week we were going to start, he sent me an e-mail saying ‘Hey, here’s an idea: 10-minute daily segments,’” Will says. “And so we just did it.”
As they are both musicians, they had some audio equipment available to them. They started laying down six 10-minute episodes a week on an old digital audio recorder. But there was a substantial learning curve. Reed does most of the segment scripting and technical production, and had to learn to transfer their recordings to a computer and edit the clips. Looking to demonstrate potential ad placement, Reed voiced short (and free) ads for friend’s workplaces and inserted them in the beginning of clips. “Not that it’s overly technical,” Reed says, “but it’s a pain in the butt.”
Nevertheless, they both caught on quickly and found inventive and simple ways to get the sounds they needed into the show. To produce the “opening a letter” sound effect used in the “listener mail” segment, Reed and Will crumple their printed show notes in front of the microphone. When they need to do a telephone interview or play an audio or video clip, they plug up Will’s iPhone.
The audio work in Oh Brother is good enough to fool me. When I ask about two “on location” shows, one of which was [supposedly] at the Shelby County airport and another was [suppos edly] in a cave, they both laugh heartily. “It was the magic of the iPhone, of course,” Will says. “It’s just us here with sound effects as if we’re in a cave. With the iPhone, we just had one plane sound over and over.”
Where art thou headed?
Taping for Oh Brother began back in May 2009, and the show has gained a healthy and loyal, if largely local, following since then. The show has been consistent, in terms of content and hilarity, throughout much of its run. Several themed segments, such as “listener mail,” are weekly staples, while segments such as “missed connections,” in which Reed and Will discuss the disturbingly honest writings of forlorn lovers on Craigslist, are special treats. Aside from a single mention of something called “rumpleforeskin,” the show has remained fit for public airwaves.
What stands out over and over again is the outstanding quality of the show’s guests. Local weather hero James Spann has been on twice, as has radio personality Paul Finebaum. Jasper Lawrence, who was featured on This American Life for selling $3,000 hookworms as a cure-all, was a guest. Alabama Crimson Tide broadcaster Eli Gold came on, and so did Deanie Dean of Dean & Co., Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers and Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls. And that day in April, Will and Reed were interviewing “Tim James,” an illegal alien who crawled for two hours through a tunnel to get to America. Those are the kinds of guests that get folks to subscribe to the show on iTunes, or listen on Facebook, or at the website (www.ohbrotherradio.com).
It will be a happy moment for the Lochamy Brothers if a program manager takes notice of Oh Brother’s success. If they don’t, Will & Reed have found some contentment in their surroundings at Brandon Brown and Country Western Delight studios.“I think that what this show has become is sort of a happy medium between the two things,” Reed says. “It’s more like a radio show, but we’re not tied down. We can do whatever we want to with it.”
“But if we ever do,” Reed says, referring to landing a radio gig, “it won’t hurt my feelings not to have to deal with the—“ “Production,” Will says.
Madison Underwood is a Birmingham Weekly staff writer. Send your comments to email@example.com.