Tony Schloss runs RHI Radio, a radio station based in Red Hook and produced entirely by young people. He’s also an audio engineer with his own recording studio, The Hook, and loads of credits working on albums from big-name bands like Blur, Cat Power and Tenacious D. We spoke with him about building RHI Radio, the unique power of audio and why Red Hook is such an amazing community. He is also co-producing Digital Waves, a youth audio festival this summer which recently added The LAMP as a partner organization.
What is RHI Radio, and how did it come into being? When I moved to Red Hook in 2005, I wanted to find a way to be a part of the Red Hook community, and do what I could to bring people from the “front” (the housing projects) together with people in the “back” (homeowners and businesses near Van Brunt St). I own a recording studio in the neighborhood, and have been an audio engineer for the past ten years. Leveraging those skills, and finding an incredible ally in Jill Eisenhard, director of The Red Hook Initiative, we came up with the plan for RHI Radio, a youth produced Internet radio station. Teens from the area create narrative radio pieces that tell the stories and highlight the issues facing the residents of the Red Hook houses and youth in general. We also try to cover events happening in the neighborhood and at RHI, and do some fun music projects at the studio.
How have you seen students grow over the course of the RHI Radio program? All of RHI’s programs focus on developing leadership qualities in youth, supporting their social and emotional health and success in school. So through tutoring, health screenings and workshops, and their radio work we hope to have a positive effect in these areas. The radio work itself shows has helped participants improve their reading, writing and speaking skills, as well as engaging them in media awareness and community development. It is impossible not to see the growth in each one of our teens. Though it is a slow process, I see them maturing, in the way they approach their work here at RHI, and in the relationships they form with each other. Past participants have changed their high school major to journalism after going through the program, and have gone on to college and become involved in their school’s newspaper or radio stations.
I know you have some serious love for Red Hook. Not that I disagree, but what is it about Red Hook that you find so compelling? There are so many things I love about my neighborhood. There is a great sense of space here, down by the water. You can see the horizon, which is a luxury here in the city. Beyond the obvious natural beauty of the river and many parks, I also love the echoes of the old Red Hook, the manufacturing buildings and warehouses and the smaller scale of the houses that were built for the workers of the neighborhood. More than anywhere else I have lived in the city, there is a real neighborhood vibe. I think it is because we are sort of stuck down here, have challenging public transportation options (to say the least), and there are no people passing through on their way elsewhere. It used to be, when you walked into a bar or restaurant, strangers would talk to you and ask you what brought you down here. Since Fairway and Ikea moved in, and the car and foot traffic has increased, there is less of that, but you still see people from the neighborhood on every block, and usually end up chatting, or at least a hello. Like all of New York, it has changed and will continue to do so, but I think there will always be a sense of belonging and community specific to the area that will never go away.
You have a lot of experience with media, but particularly with audio. What draws you to that specific media form? I became a producer and audio engineer because I was mediocre musician but wanted to be a part of the creative process, especially with music which has played such a large role in my life. So I taught myself digital recording software, and was lucky to be able to find work with successful producers in Los Angeles. When I returned to New York, in addition to running my studio, I began teaching music production and radio production to teens. What I found was that the creative process with young people was so much more exciting and vibrant than with adults, who tend to slow the process down with excessive editing of their own performance, and then again using the capability of the digital software. But with teenagers in a 45 minutes class period, we could write three songs and they would be incredible work for the most part. So I found the truly creative process occurred with young people. And then with radio and its narrative style, I found that young people’s stories could be so intimate, and giving them the chance to tell their stories truly inspiring and fulfilling, and haven’t looked back.
This summer, RHI Radio is co-hosting the first Digital Waves Festival. What can you tell us about the event? We are very excited that The LAMP is joining the partners who are putting the Festival together. The LAMP is joining RHI Radio, WNYC’s Radio Rookies Program, and Radio Rootz from the People’s Production House in hosting the event, which will take place on July 30th, 2011 at WNYC’s Greene Space. The Festival is geared towards participants and leaders of youth media projects around New York, and will feature workshops, panels and speakers all focused on youth media and the skills, benefits and interests of youth media production. The LAMP also now adds media awareness and media literacy to the fold, which is excellent. This year the focus will be on audio, and its many uses in media production and elsewhere. Next year the focus may change, but it will always revolve around the success that comes from youth media production.
Click here to visit Tony’s website, and stay tuned for more information about Digital Waves!