Birmingham’s leading digital radio station, Substrate Radio, is making a huge move with the announcement of their relocation to the Saturn music venue. This exciting location is to the left of the ramp leading into the venue from Satellite. It’s public facing windows face 41st Street and allow passersby or visitors at Avondale Brewery across the street to watch the station record live. Substrate is already recording in the space, but plans to have a bigger “opening” around their ninth anniversary this New Year's.
As I sit down in the mostly completed new space with station owner Jason Hamric for the interview, it’s easy to tell how exciting this development will be for both station and venue. A cold coffee from local brewers Domestique Coffee pairs nicely with Hamric’s unique setlist that features Snail Mail and Birmingham band The Blips. On the other side of a wall proudly displaying a Substrate banner is a handful of Birmingham residents spending their morning working at the city’s most unique music venue/coffee bar. Substrate Radio aims to introduce the city to musical artists that are below the mainstream surface, but heating up. Songs that you don’t typically hear on your radio. The types of songs and artists that can often be seen taking the stage at Saturn. It just feels right.
Jason has had the vision of operating a radio station since the mid-90s, and, after research, found terrestrial radio at the time to not be cost-effective. The idea was rekindled after digital radio opened up the airwaves to an entire new group of ready entrepreneurs. Jason had seen his friends at Birmingham Mountain Radio start finding success in the online format, and was ready to jump in himself. At first Substrate planned to join forces with BMR and Vulcanite Radio to form an online network called “Dewya,” but as stations found the best path for their individual goals the plans eventually became null. Substrate formed their online hub on New Year’s Eve 2012, and has been chugging away since. “I’ve been doing it for a long time, and it’s a lot of fun,” shares Jason.
The station spent their first few years at a studio in Woodlawn, which was acquired through REV Birmingham. Jason and company were new to the industry, but ready to jump in. Jason’s partner and lead singer of Dree Leer, Jackie Lo, was the first to try. “The night we hooked it all up it was like two in the morning and Jackie got on,” Jason recalls, “and we found out real quick she was a natural, so she became a DJ on night one.”
She’s since been joined by a roster filled to the brim with some of the Magic City’s favorite people. This list includes Craig Ceravolo with Wake Up Boo, Craig’s Sleep In Cinema co-host Gareth Jones, Suaze with The Pastime Paradise, DJ Supreme with The Classic Hip-Hop Show, Paul Wilm with Psychic Tuesdays, and Keith Goodwin's Turbulence. They have no plans of going to FM anytime soon, as digital provides freedoms and coverage not found in any other format. “We’re international from this small office in Avondale.”
The small office in Avondale had been an idea for years. Jason and Saturn owner Brian Teasley have a long relationship, and have discussed the concept since Saturn’s first moments of existence, but the timing never worked out. Adjustments due to the pandemic opened up the conversation again, and this time both parties were ready.
For Jason, the idea of a streetside station goes back to a trip to New York he took around eighth grade. He passed a DJ for East Village Radio who was in a room half the size of Substrate’s and Jason immediately found a new goal for his future. “I remember being really jealous, like ‘That’s the best way to do it right there,’ so this is a dream for me.” In addition to the benefits of recording right off of 41st Street, playing in the venue means more band interviews, more live performances in studio, and the potential for unique opportunities like listening in to soundchecks and more.
The station is proud to be in Birmingham. Jason grew up here, and has been involved in the city’s music scene for years. He’s provided photography and videography for dozens of Birmingham favorites like Nerves Baddington, and has mastered a large percent of albums released from the city. The station makes sure to play at least one local artist every hour, and feels they have no shortage to choose from.
Jason draws a timeline of Birmingham bands that made their names known through the years, and it’s easy to feel proud in our city as he does. Groups like Remy Zero, Little Red Rocket, and Verbena made way for Haste and company, which Jason points out were recently re-highlighted at the revived Furnace Fest. Now bands like St. Paul and the Broken Bones carry the torch, with others ready to find success behind them.
Hamric makes it clear he’s a fan of the current music movement in the city, highlighting local labels like Earth Libraries, Cornelius Chapel, Step Pepper, and Communicating Vessels throughout the interview.
“Per capita, I’d put Birmingham against any city or state in the world as far as talent,” he states. “There’s something in the water here. Maybe it’s the punk rock attitude. Maybe it’s the chip on the shoulder – nobody makes it from here so everybody works really hard.” That punk rock, DIY attitude does make our city something special, and we’re glad it carries over to our digital radio.