Backbeat: 'This American Life's Ira Glass On Radio's Survival @ WFMU Record Fair: 'Who Cares?'
Backbeat: 'This American Life's Ira Glass On Radio's Survival @ WFMU Record Fair: 'Who Cares?'

Crate Diggers at the WFMU Record Fair in NYC. (Photo: Maria Sherman)

This past weekend, independent non-commercial radio station WFMU hosted their annual record fair. Eighteen years running, the fair consisted of more than 200 dealers, an audience of about 4,000 collectors and 50 volunteers, over the span of three days: Friday, October 28 through Sunday, October 30 at the giant 30,000 square foot Metropolitan Pavilion at 125 West 18th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues in Chelsea.

The fair-the largest of it's kind in the New York area-was founded by WFMU General Manager Ken Freedman in 1993 at the tiny Elks Lodge in Hoboken, New Jersey and has since moved to a regular Manhattan location.

Entry cost $7 a day to attend, $25 for early birds who began their visit Friday afternoon and spanned until Sunday evening. The fee goes in support of the station and according to Freedman "accounts for somewhere between 6% - 7% of WFMU, not bad for a single weekend."

Freedman claims that over the years, the WFMU Record Fair has seen a change in demographics, "including more women and young people-college students-than ever before."

Radiovision Festival: A Conversation on the Future of Radio (Photo: Maria Sherman)

Unique to this year was the addition of "Radiovision," a conference located at a large space next door to the Pavilion. The festival ran concurrent with the fair, but tickets were sold separately-and sold out on a sliding scale of $40-$80. Described on WFMU's website as "a festival celebrating radio's future as it takes on new forms in the digital age for the medium's fans, tinkerers and future thinkers," stresses what Freedman claims is "the importance of radio, and the direction it's headed."

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After the opening remarks on Saturday, the festival kicked off with its first panel featuring WFMU DJ Tom Scharpling (of the Best Show,) NPR's Ira Glass (of This American Life,) and Air America's Marc Maron (now of the wildly successful podcast, WTF) discussing the origins of their careers in radio and how they developed their distinct celebrity personas.

The panel reached it's apex on the ever-looming question of the future of radio. Glass became very heated before declaring, "As people we should stop asking if radio will survive. We don't have to decide that. If radio goes away, something else will take its place, and who cares. As long as there are cars with radios and people are lazy, they're going to turn on the radio. Thank God people are lazy."

Radiovision Panel (Photo: Maria Sherman)

The crowded room became agitated as Glass continued: "The question if radio will survive is disturbingly nostalgic. If it doesn't survive: who cares. There's never been a better time to be creative than now."

Prince Rama: Live at WFMU (Photo: Maria Sherman)

The fair also consisted of live performances from artists that get a lot of airplay on WFMU and serve to "represent the station." Including Brooklyn-duo Prince Rama, who were the first to perform at the fair, Saturday morning, as well as Sediment Club, Black Hollies, CSC Funk Band, and the a tribute to the legendary John Fahey with Glenn Jones, Charlie Schmidt, and Ragtime Ralph.

In accordance with the theme of radio, WFMU's record fair featured live broadcasts from DJs Kurt Gottschalk of Minature Minotaurs, Mr. Fine Wine of Downtown Soulville, Michael Shelley, Fool's Paradise with Rex, the Cherry Blossom with Terre T, and Gaylord Fields.