Interview: Broadband A-Go-Go – The Rise of Radiocore

When was the last time you were completely comfortable with someone taking complete control of an aspect of your life? It’s unsettling to think about letting anyone control a part of our lives, especially with technology today allowing us to control more avenues in our lives than before. The trajectory of this technology has made us more prone to relying on the impersonal actions of an algorithm dictating choices geared to our personal preferences instead of relinquishing these choices to that of an independent-minded human being. Let alone a person invisible to your eyes but not your ears. 

Case in point, the radio DJ. The other option besides your preferred digital service provider’s algorithm and someone we’re comfortable giving our attention to. Streaming services give us control over the media we consume, shifting the risk of unfavorable media choices to near-zero. Near-zero risk is a utopian concept that’s boring and disadvantageous to ourselves and the work of others.

Online radio with live DJs is the antithesis of this concept. It has grown exponentially thanks to a democratized setup process allowing anyone with an internet connection to become a tastemaker. A September 2021 Statista report on the internet radio market states IHeartRadio’s network pulls in a quarter of a million active listeners per month while NPR member stations are the second most popular internet radio choice for users. An artist landing a song in rotation within one of these networks is a big plus; however, often looked over in favor of these more prominent outlets is a respected underground radio network showcasing underrepresented artists domestically and abroad along with breathing new life into obscure singles from bygone eras. 

This is precisely what Richard Holguin envisioned and accomplished with Radiocore, a vinyl-only radio circuit he launched out of his old apartment in 2009. Since launching, Radiocore has grown into an international dance party presence through old-fashioned word-of-mouth marketing efforts and social media activity with an audience  ranging from Asia, Europe, South America, and all over the United States.

Holguin, an avid record collector, is known around the Los Angeles rock n’ roll circuit under the DJ pseudonym Shanty Tramp who keeps a regular DJ schedule across county lines. When he’s not curating sets for an event night or out record hunting, Holguin can be found assisting other Radiocore DJs with their set up or hosting his own show, Shanty’s Kitchen, showcasing his decades built 45 collections ranging from 60s freakbeat, forgotten mid-western garage rock, South American garage, and primitive 50s rock and roll.

Another mainstay on the network is Jesse Workman, an avid record collector known in the same circuit as DJ Astro 138. Workman has three shows under the Radiocore banner: Vinyl Record Association specializes in broadcasting 60s garage rock, 50s Northern Soul, and obscure R&B, Punk and Disorderly showcases Workman’s 70s and 80s punk collection, and Reggae For Lovers has Workman diving into his dancehall and Jamaican oldies 45s. 

Left to Right:
Richard Holguin (aka DJ Shanty Tramp) and Jesse Workman (aka DJ Astro 138) together at Tiki Oasis

The idea for Radiocore began out of digital age irony in the mid-2000s when Holguin, based up in Fresno at the time, discovered a misrepresentation in the first batch of internet radio stations on an iPod Shuffle, “The shuffle only carried twenty stations when it first came out, and there was one I discovered called Live Vinyl which was anything but. You could easily tell all the music being played was still in digital form because there weren’t any snaps or pops coming in between song transitions; that’s when I got the idea of playing real records online and began brainstorming how to pull this off with technology the way it was back then.” he recounts.

The idea made sense since Holguin’s collection was expanding with frequent trips to stores like Record Exchange, Spinners, and various thrift stores and swap meets over the years. This idea never left Holguin, and when his former partner doubted his ability to pull the venture off, that fueled him to make a phone call to his tech-savvy brother to get the necessary groundwork in place. “He told me to get a server and a website ready, 2008 is when we originally kicked Radiocore off, and we were playing Mp3s in the very early period just to get it rolling while I was learning how to work a USB mixer and turntable. Finally, in January 2009, when I figured it out, I ditched all these USB cables, adjusted a few settings, and went all analog one night. It worked, and from there, we were playing 100% vinyl live on the air.  All the shows are 100% vinyl, and everyone on board knows and is down with that.” 

Since its launch, Radiocore has grown into a roster of seventeen different shows with transmissions under the network flag in Tokyo, the UK, and all over the United States. Marketing was never a major concern of Holguin’s since he rarely promoted on his own, and most of the listenership grew via word of mouth and later through social media. He recalls a time when the show first began branching out after relocating back to Southern California from Fresno, “I was going through a divorce at the time and moved down to my buddy’s place in Riverside; he was someone I had in mind to have their own show on Radiocore because he’s a big record collector too and we both grew up in Maywood together.

He was into the idea, and then we moved our records into one room along with the equipment and set up the mixer, computer, and turntables. I taught him how to run the system, and that’s all we did for a while, and we’d slowly bring in other friends to spin too.” he recalls. 

The circulation of DJs in their apartment was often enough to germinate the idea of Radiocore to grow into other areas of Southern California where DJs could remotely host their own show. “Keep in mind that all this was during the Myspace Age, too, and we were getting a huge response to live vinyl. My buddy’s girlfriend Jackie was also a mega collector and one of the best DJs I knew; her show called The Wild Zero was one of the first Radiocore shows. Jackie would bring in guest DJs, and the idea would grow outward into one big record party from that.

“Eventually, my buddy out in East L.A. wanted to do his own show, so I’d roll over and show him how to set up then do the same over at Jackie’s house in Orange County. Then it just became a fire spread. Then my buddy and I ended up moving out of that apartment, and he went up to Oakland, and up there, he’d set up and start getting the locals to show. People In Vegas got a hold of me and asked me to help set them up, then Flipside Scotty over in Pittsburgh did the same. Once we started putting our shows up on Mixcloud, record collectors overseas would tune in, and they’d want to be a part of the family,” Holguin recounts.  

Examples of these grassroots word-of-mouth efforts are responsible for expanding Radiocore beyond Riverside County. Still, Holguin knows where credit is due, and it’s to the various Radiocore DJs he’s on boarded over the years. 

Workman is one of those DJs and a network mainstay since first debuting with the Vinyl Record Association show in 2008. Irony has it that both he and Holguin would connect in the mid-2000s via the chatroom of a precursing internet radio show similar to Radiocore with Howie Pyro’s Intoxica Radio. At the time, the extent of Workman’s radio production experience only rounded to guest spots with Pyro on Intoxica Radio. Still, the offer to come aboard Radiocore was too good not to pass up. “The move made sense for me.”

Workman recounts. “I was already DJing locally for a few clubs, and doing a broadcast would take that to another level, but I had to learn what the hell I was doing on the fly. Oh my god, if you heard those early shows of mine, I’ve only gotten better! Having a consistent schedule polished the show up to producing Vinyl Record Association became natural for me. I began having more fun with it. Being a committed DJ on Radicore, I don’t want to say it puts pressure on you, but it makes you enhance your creativity. It makes you go out there and seek new stuff and really makes you up to your game because you have that schedule.

On Monday nights is when I do the Vinyl Record Association. I think about it during the week, and it makes you plan early and really think about how you’re going to stand out from the last show. There’s no censorship or planned-out material ahead of time, so this is 100 percent all your effort. Sometimes you’ll look into some old boxes you have lying around and find something you haven’t played in a long time. I’ll listen to the other shows on the network and take notes on what they’re playing because you can always learn something from their styles; every once in a while, someone will play something that’ll bite me, and I’ll flag it, find it and basically, we’re all learning from each other and even from guys like Tim Warren with his Jungle Exotica, Back From The Grave, and Las Vegas Grind records.

In all honesty, what Richard’s done has actually enhanced my life because I could be one of those middle-aged men who channel surfs on and all that stuff, but doing this keeps me edgy and sharp. I really look forward to doing this. I’m telling you, man, it’s one thing collecting records. Still, it’s something totally different when you’re playing your collection, it’s like night and day, a big difference, and it’s totally therapeutic. I’m saving a shit load of money on a shrink. We collect and use our records for this reason; that’s what they’re for and what Rich’s made allows me and everyone else to do all that.” Workman states. 

Both Holguin and Workman are not late bloomers to the record collecting scene, having amassed their collection through decades of hunting up and down California’s array of stores and swap meets. Holguin, a native of the South Los Angeles inner-city neighborhood of Maywood and Workman of the San Fernando Valley’s Van Nuys area, were around during the flourishing hey-days of the Los Angeles punk scene and regularly hit spots like Middle Earth Records, Vinyl Fetish, Aaron’s, among others.

Their earliest exposures to collecting hark back to their childhoods, with Holguin’s earliest memories being hearing his babysitter blare oldies in his parent’s house, but it was his older brother who introduced him to punk rock, “He hooked me onto Dead Kennedys, Misfits and everything in that rabbit hole that I never came out of,” he says. Workman’s early life in Sun Valley exposed him to the happenings of the Los Angeles punk scene, with shows at the Sportsman Hall attracting punks all over the town to the venue across the way from his old baseball field. Eventually, Workman would start attending the same shows both at Sportsman Hall and at Godzilla’s seeing bands like The Exploited, GBH, Bad Religion, Beowulf, and others before branching out to downtown Los Angeles into the multi-circle pits of the Olympic Auditorium shows and over to Long Beach to catch gigs at Fender’s Ballroom. 

Learning about the happenings overseas, the two pinpoint their early interest in radio from the late-night broadcasts of KROQ”s Rodney on The Roq show. “There wasn’t any other accessible way to learn about British punk or mod at the time outside of Rodney Bingheimer’s show, and everyone I knew stayed up late to record it as they didn’t want to miss some obscure band he’d introduce,” Workman states. “That’s true; there were bands from overseas sending Rodney their stuff before they’d let anyone else hear it even,” Holguin reiterates. 

With Bingheimer’s show exposing the two to the current up and comers in the punk world of the time, Workman and Holguin’s appreciation for the vintage garage sound would come from East Coast with the eccentric tastes of iconoclastic DJ Mad Mike Metrovich, whose show regularly showcased overlooked American groups during the time the British Invasion was upending the American listener. “Mad Mike had a signature sound, and that’s another level for a DJ to achieve. No one knew about him unless they were from Pittsburgh back in the 1960s.

It was Miriam [Linna] from Norton Records who pretty much introduced that guy to the world with those Mad Mike Monster compilations they released.” Workman enthusiastically states. “You gotta remember, during that time, everyone was on the Beatle-bandwagon, and he was like, “no man, there’s a lot of great rock n’ roll here that needs to be heard! He’d travel everywhere going to record shows, flea markets, and swap meets where he’d just buy tons of records to play on the show and make up names for the bands because he didn’t want people to know their real names. He’d scratch out the center label, all this weird shit! I heard he had so many records that he had to live in a trailer in front of his house because there was just no room to sleep in his home, just too many records.”

Holguin recalls his introduction to Mad Mike being through how he and Workman first met through Intoxica Radio, “ I discovered Mad Mike through Howie Pyro actually when he was talking about the Mad Mike Moldies compilations one day. and I began tracking those compilations down to add to my collection and shortly after that, started chasing the 45s,” he recalls. 

Workman expands on the subject, “There’s actually this tiny number of those LPs he pressed where Mike made his own cover; I think Howie might have a copy of that. On those Moldies compilations, Mike made the covers out of stapled cardboard, and they’re super rare. If you’re really into record collecting, I’d advise you 100% to look him up, and even Norton Records put out a bunch of his stuff around 2008, I believe. This guy was a certified DJ, a total badass, and you weren’t hearing the music he’d play anywhere else.” 

Bingheiemer and Mad Mike’s paralleling styles bridge different generations of bands and genres into Workman and Holguin’s own set. It’s not uncommon for their playlists to have something like Italian trash rock duo The Devils blast listeners with their explosive punk rock sound immediately after a lounge cut from Lavender Jungle compilation. Most of the time, the music they play from the Strip, Crypt, and Norton compilations are broadcasted from the original 45s used to assemble those collections. “Those comps come in handy obviously with material to play, but eventually, the itch to go after those original 45s comes around, and once you’re down that rabbit hole, you’re done for.” Holguin laughs with. 

Workman nods in agreement. “Oh totally, those 45s are artifacts from 50 or 60 years ago, and when you get into that world, it’s like an addiction. You could live for another 100 years, have more records than you’ll ever need, and still be jonesing for another one! You just buy, protect, then shelve and move on to the next. The records you own and play speak for themselves, not the kind of clothes you wear; we’re all about substance here,” says Workman.

Holguin adds in, “Yeah, and also we’re spinning original stuff too, not represses. I’m talking about stuff you put on a credit card or set you back a paycheck, like do I buy groceries or this record?”

What started as a hobby has already gotten Radiocore considerable trajectory with invites of the DJs to come abroad to DJ festivals and events here in the states. “We were offered to play Weirdsville in the UK right before the pandemic hit. We’ve done sets at Viva Las Vegas and are on board to spin at Tiki Oasis this year too.” Workman reveals. The cost of running Radiocore is paid solely out of pocket by Holguin, who indicates he’s declined sponsorship offers in the past including  offers from iHeartMedia , “I know a higher up over there who caught on to us and bugs me to do something with them. Honestly, I’d rather keep Radicore as it has been since the beginning. ” Holguin clears up. 

Workman chimes in with a grim story, “There’s a fine line between commercial appeal and the people who are just into our originality and not mainstream, once that line is crossed, then forget about it. If you want a hell of a story like what I’m referring to, look up a Cleveland DJ named The Mad Daddy, intense stuff.”

With the future of Radiocore remaining independent, Holguin’s been working on the next phase of Radiocore’s growth which includes an uproot from Mixcloud and into larger streaming platforms with Spotify and Apple Music. In 2021, Holguin and Workman, and another Radiocore DJ, Alan Wolf (aka Harley Wolf of the Knif Files show) launched an affiliated podcast titled Diggsville. They describe the podcast as simply as the three hosts cracking some beers and playing the records they just bought while also discussing the history behind each album. Holguin is also open to hearing any requests from DJs who are interested in coming aboard to have their own show, “How we have it set up right now is that anyone who has the equipment and it doesn’t matter what country you’re in if you want to plug in and do something, it’s possible and we can do it,” he concludes.

For all things Radiocore, visit their official website and catch their Mixcloud archives to hear all the latest shows broadcasting across the network.  The Vinyl Record Association broadcast is available here as well as the Diggsville podcast

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