Earlier this week, we passed along the sad news that venerable Manhattan independent radio station, East Village Radio, would close down, after an 11-year run. We caught up with EVR DJ and, seriously, one of the best barbers on the east coast, Michael Harr to get his perspective on the end of the EVR era.
Give me your basic history with EVR, and what’s your work life outside that little studio?
I was brought onto EVR by the owner, Frank Prisinzano. I used to cut hair at a barbershop in Nolita, and Frank would come in to see me for his weekly shave. We’d talk music and I’d talk old music. I’d been building a collection of very early 78s since I was in college. He asked, “You think you’d have enough to fill a weekly show?” I said, “How many years?” The following week I came in for a test run and was well received by the staff. I’ve been doing my show, The Ragged Phonograph Program, on EVR since 2009. Aside from that, I still barber in Soho at Fellow Barber and DJ events in and out of NYC on my two 1906 hand-cranked phonographs with original 78s from the first quarter of the last century. I can be followed on Instagram and Twitter.
How would describe what kind of tunes you played?
I spun original ragtime, pop, jazz and dance music from the first quarter of the 20th century. Plus my “Electric Eight” segment at half past the hour would feature eight “electric” recordings from the early microphone days of the late 1920s and early ’30s, as opposed to the pre-1925 era in which artists were recorded “acoustically.”
What are some favorite stories regarding people walking by the studio and bugging you, friends stopping by, drunks stumbling in, etc., stories about EVR’s quirky Lower East Side location.
The station was so unique because it was out in the open on street level. My show would air Friday mornings from 8am-10am, so you have the people running to the subway, mothers with strollers in the opposite direction. My buddies who lived in the area would walk by and wave. Tourists would stop, stare, and snap their cameras as if they were peering into a foreign animal cage. There was this Hasidic rabbi that would take it upon himself to open the door to the studio, poke his head in and mumble something under his breath. Drunks and hobos still wandering the streets from the previous night would ask if they could get a “shout out.” It was constant entertainment on my side of the mic.
How about stories that surprised you about how far the reach of the sation is?
I’m always surprised at the extent of listeners I’ve gained. From young, hip Americans to a doctor in Afghanistan! I’ve gotten emails and letters from fans in Japan, Italy, London, Canada, France, Germany and Israel. I even dated a girl who was and still is living in Sweden, who was an avid listener of The Ragged Phonograph Program! I was working for a month in San Francisco, and an older fan of the show dropped in to give me several CDs worth of 78 transfers from his own collection. He invited me to visit his home where we spent an entire afternoon listening to just some of his 6,000 plus Edison Diamond Disc records collection!
What else have you heard about why EVR is closing? And does the usual suspect—rising rents in Manhattan—have anything to do with it?
That reason is true and is stated accurately by EV GRIEVE.
How well do you know the the two EVR heads: Peter Ferraro and Frank Prisinzano?
I know Pete and Frank well enough to know they put their blood, sweat, tears and money into this station and kept it going in its purest state. They did not want to sell it because the whole format would be changed, and I know Frank wanted to go out on top, on a good note. It’s a brave choice.
Do you believe they will keep EVR going in some way? Have you heard anything about future plans?
I haven’t heard about future plans, but if it is resurrected, I would be surprised.
What will you miss most about EVR and doing your show?
What I’ll miss most about it all is the response from the fans. My show is very specific. I’m playing music that is over 100 years old. The artists have been dead for many decades. Some of these listeners NEVER heard of Billy Murray, Ada Jones, Wilbur Sweatman, Jim Europe, etc. I was able to share my favorite genre with people from all over the globe, and they enjoyed it! How bout that?! I love them for that.
Someone needs to preserve these early recordings, It sure as hell ain’t modern mainstream radio stations. EVR was the conduit that allowed me to do this. I’ll never forget that. I’ve received emails from young fans that felt completely alone and misunderstood—just as I did when I was getting into Vaudeville and early 78s. I’m humbled at the fact that I cheered them up. That was the sweetest part of the gig. For now, we should all take the advice of the old Great War tune and “Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag And Smile, Smile, Smile.”