UC Radio's Mike Yusi: How To Succeed In Podcasting

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"Traditional radio is as dead as Joey Ramone."

Last year, Rocks Off's editor - who will be played by upcoming Celebrity Apprentice contestant Gary Busey for the duration of this article - hauled us into his office and said, "Dammit, With One F! This radio on the Internet thing is blowing up. We need someone to go deep inside and find the best of the best!

"I want a killer article on 11 of the most awesome Internet radio stations or podcasts. Not 10, that's a commie number! You bring me back 11, or clean out your desk!"

[Ed. Note: Sigh.]

So we did, and the first on the list was UC Radio out of California, hosted by Mike Yusi. We've been listening to Mike's show for years because it's one of the few shows out there that knows the difference between good rock and roll and bad rock and roll.

Yusi knows when a song is a three-minute beer commercial turned up, and when it's actually just good dirty art. The former rarely makes an appearance on his weekly show, and the latter never fails to make one. The music brackets an Yusi's commentary, which is always current, funny, insightful and, most of all, concise. That means he knows when to shut up and get back to the sick electric-twanger tracks.

The fact that his Scottish sister-in-law Charlie opens the show screaming about being naked doesn't hurt either. Rocks Off decided we needed to follow-up with Yusi, and maybe get a glimpse into what is making him one of the most popular podcasts out there.

Rocks Off: What made you want to start an Internet radio show?

Mike Yusi: Six years ago, I read an article about self produced music and talk shows that sounded a lot like the pirate radio stations I grew up listening to, first in Northern California when I was a kid, then in Southern California when I was a teenager. I loved those shows, and my passion for music came from listening to the pirates DJs that spoke with such emotion about why they liked certain bands, and how those bands made them feel and why they mattered in the grand scheme of things.

I had always fantasized about having a pirate radio station, so I figured I'd give it a shot. 5 and a half years and 452 UC Radio episodes later, here I am. The driving force behind it all has always been my love of music, and since I'm not playing in bands any longer, I saw it as a way to stay connected to new music, while helping bands that I really thought had a shot, get some exposure.

RO: To what do you attribute the success of UC Radio?

MY: First my listeners, I've got the most loyal listeners around, some going back four-five years, and they know more about my past shows than I do. Being on Sirius Satellite definitely helped grow the audience, but mostly I think that my experience playing in a band here on the West Coast in the '80s and '90s gives me the ability to tell which bands are for real, and which bands are fluff. I try not to play fluff.

I refuse to play a song that isn't on my iPod someplace in regular rotation. I actually care about the music I put out there for my listeners, and I think it shows.

RO: Do you think Internet radio will eventually complete overtake traditional radio, or will they coexist?

MY: I think that traditional radio is as dead as Joey Ramone. It's all the same formula, the same songs, the same contests, the same everything. Satellite radio is a thousand times better, but even there, the only station I can think of that has a unique personality and truly aims to educate the listeners about music, is Little Steven's Underground Garage. They talk about the music in a way that makes it clear they care, and honestly, that's all I'm trying to do with UC Radio.

I want the listeners to not only find good music through UC Radio, but to understand why it matters, whether it's an album I'm referring from the 60's, or a band like Absinthe, how they link back to L7, and why that's cool and important. I think the music and radio industries are so screwed up that they've forgotten the importance of the end user, the listener, and how they, in the end, will determine what is good and what isn't.

Shows like mine, self produced shows, by people that actually love the music and the process of making music, I think in the end will be the last man standing because the listeners aren't stupid, they know what they want and with shows like UC Radio, they know where to find it.

RO: Can you tell me about China's ban on your show?

MY: A few years ago China put out a list of all of the New Media shows, talk and music, that were banned due to "Indecent and Immoral Content," as they put it. And there I was. I don't know what I said to piss them off, or why they don't like the bands I play, but I do have to thank them.

My "UC Radio Banned in China" T-shirts are my best sellers, and all the proceeds go to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in the name of my friend Byron. So thanks Chairman Mao, wherever you are, for being such an uptight ass.

RO: What determines the content you play?

MY: Four things:

  • Do I like the song? I've never played and I never will play a song that someone else asks me to play unless I like it.
  • Do I like it over a long period of time, meaning, does it end up on my iPod for regular rotation?
  • Is the band an actual band? Rarely will I play someone that is a one-man act or uses their computer to make it sound like they can play guitar. I like bands that start in a garage, play in clubs, and put in the time being a real band that can play their instruments like I had to.
  • And [finally], what are the guys in the band like? I try to speak either directly or through email with everyone I play to get a feel for whether or not they're the real deal. If I like them, they get played. If they're like 75 percent of the bands I dealt with when I was fighting for stage time, and they're just tools, they get put on the bottom shelf.

RO: How do you find new bands?

MY: These days, the show is doing well enough that I usually have between 20-30 songs submitted by bands directly through the Web site at ucradiorocks.com, but of those 20-30, maybe only five are good enough, or produced well enough to play - and yes, production counts.

I don't play anything that sounds like it was recorded in a bathroom. Besides bands submitting their tunes, I use a number of websites where music is submitted to be played on New Media shows. My favorite is Ariel Publicity. She's got it wired down tight. The site doesn't have the largest selection of bands and music, but what she's got is really good. Love her site.

RO: Do you get a lot of feedback on the talk portion of your show? If yes, is it mostly negative or positive?

MY: 75 percent of the feedback I get is on the talk portion of the show. For some reason during the last election, people started thinking I knew what I was talking about when it came to politics, and because of that, I had to start learning about them, and fast. I didn't want to leave my listeners hanging when they asked questions, so I started studying up.

About one-third of the show is driven by listener emails with questions and comments. For the most part, I'd say the comments are positive, especially when it comes to the music parts of the show and the album referrals. When I talk about politics, or pretty much anything having to do with our country between Vegas and Newark and what a wasteland so much of it is, then that's when I get the negative comments - but sometimes those are the most fun.

RO: What is your favorite song that you've played on the show?

MY: Wow...that's a tough one. I've played almost 3,000 songs over the last five and a half years, and I love them all in one way or another. I'd have to say that for pure pump, just balls-to-the wall stuff, Enderverafter. "Baby, Baby, Baby" makes me want to pick up my guitar and play along every time.

But bands like Jeremy Rowe, Rusty Wright, Urbansnake, Tara Leigh Cobble, they're all just so good. I feel like I'm letting those other 2,999 songs down by not picking them.

RO: Is Charlie really Scottish? This is actually just a bet with The Wife With One F. How did she come about doing the openings?

MY: Yes, Charlie is actually Scottish.

RO: That was going to get me out of seeing the last Twilight flick. Oh well, go on...

MY: She's actually my cousin Andrew's fiancé, and they live just outside of Glasgow in Paisley. He met her in acting school, and moved home with her when it was over. She's an amazing woman, bright, funny, beautiful and best of all, she can drink most men under the table.

The show openers started one night after a long game of quarters, when I put her in front of my mike and hit record and just let her go. Whenever they're in town, I fill her full of ale and record new openings. It's just that simple. I am guaranteed emails every time I open an episode with her, the listeners love her and are demanding nude photos, which I don't have, however, there is a T-shirt coming soon to ucradiostuff.com.

RO: What is your ultimate goal with UC Radio?

MY: Believe it or not, my ultimate goal is 180 degrees from most of the people that produce shows these days. I'm not looking to be found like Norma Jean sitting at the soda fountain, and all of a sudden I'm famous. Kind of defeats the purpose of the whole thing, I think.

The ultimate goal of UC Radio is to bring back the Pirate Radio spirit that I grew up listening to. I want to share my love of music, new and old, and my passion for its very existence with the listeners. I want UC Radio listeners to come back because they know they're going to hear great music, that it's being played by someone that actually cares about the music, the history behind it, how it ties into the future and the past, and that I'm not getting anything out of it other than doing it for the love of music.

The goal is to put out an honest show that's entertaining, not afraid to be indecent and immoral when needed, and to be able to keep doing so with total and complete freedom of content. I've got to like my show before I can expect anyone else to, and right now, I friggin' love my show.

Jef With One F is the author of The Bible Spelled Backwards Does Not Change the Fact That You Cannot Kill David Arquette and Other Things I Learned In the Black Math Experiment, available now.

Follow Rocks Off on Facebook and on Twitter at @HPRocksOff.

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