Red Light Radio

Hugo van Heijningen and Orpheu the wizard behind the window of Amsterdam based Red Light Radio

more than just a radio signal

“We moved in for just a couple of months and everyone was enjoying it a lot.  So one more month and then one more month and then all of a sudden  we were already there for a year. And now we’ve been here for 6 years”.

Speaking is Red Light Radio co-founder Hugo van Heijningen and the here he refers to is the former prostitution window from which the station operates. The building is nestled in Amsterdam’s red light district, opposite the city’s old church and in the past six years, Red Light Radio has become a local and international phenomenon by playing host to the cream of the crop of the DJ underground and by delivering a consistently high-end and varied musical program.

The station was started by Van Heijningen and Orpheu The Wizard in 2010. Both are long time actors of the Amsterdam scene, having organized shows and club nights across the city for a number of years. Orpheu’s history with radio stretches back longer. He and Young Marco, another key proponent of the Amsterdam club scene, used to host a joint show called Weird Science on the defunct radio platform Studio 80.

The music played on Red Light Radio is proudly open-ended. Lock in at any given moment and you are likely to hear disco rubbing shoulders with African music, ambient being mixed with house and healthy doses of hip-hop, rock and even metal. The station’s bread and butter does however remain electronic music and its residents include some of the city’s most respected musical luminaries. San Proper, Cinnaman and Interstellar Funk all have a show, as do key Amsterdam labels like Delsin, M>O>S and Dekmantel. All in all, over 100 DJs have a residency there and “everyone that is interesting and that has knowledge about a certain genre is welcome to do a show”.

The facade of Red Light Radio by day

But just a radio it is not and that is something Van Heijningen is keen to point out. “We are much more than a radio station. We are a platform and we are a community project in the city. We do a lot of things outside the studio – events and stages at festivals for example. It’s a lot more than just a radio signal”. In September the team was over in the Moroccan desert broadcasting live Gnawa bands as partners of the festival Atlas Electronic. The month before that, they were on home turf, broadcasting live from Amsterdam’s celebrated Dekmantel Festival. The feeling of community that Van Heijningen refers to is palpable in the building which houses the radio. Oudekerksplein n°22 now houses two recording studios and two record shops, the Vintage Voodoo and the station’s in-house Red Light Records. A number of freelancers from the music and film industry are also based in the building.

The facade of Red Light Radio by night

The international appeal of the station is strong. 35% of listeners are from Holland the rest come from all over the world. There are listeners in Afghanistan, Argentina, Russia, Japan and the list continues to grow. The success of the station mirrors that of other local, community-based radio stations with a global appeal like NTS in London or Berlin Community Radio in Germany. As mainstream radio offers very little of interest for the youth in many countries – when speaking about the situation in Holland, Van Heijningen’s opinion is clear-cut: “It’s terrible […] You only hear stupid shit” – the high-quality and unpretentious alternative that these kind of stations represent will only continue to draw in more listeners.

Six years in and the sincerity on display is striking. “We’re still in this whole thing with the same way of thinking. We want to share good stuff, bring everything together as a platform. […] There are a lot of special moments”. Van Heijningen recalls the legendary punk poet John Cooper Clarke visiting the station the first month that it opened. “We started the station and these heroes of ours are already loving the concept and wanting to do something with us. A lot of cool stuff has happened in the past six years”.

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