When local musician Make Keene and Discourse Coffee co-owner Ryan Castelaz started Corsair Radio late in 2020, they had two goals: find a project to while away the slow winter months and get weird.
“We really encourage our DJs to trust that they have creative control and they can play anything,” Keene said. “We want them to get weird with it, and try new things. We’re not trying to be like other radio stations; we want to be the alternative.”
The two friends met as employees of the now-closed Bier Zot in Sister Bay and, after discovering a mutual frustration with what they were hearing on the radio, decided to take matters into their own hands.
“We wanted to highlight bands that are just coming up, but also the catalogs of bands that just don’t get enough attention,” Keene said. “That’s my biggest criticism of radio in general – not just Door County radio, but even here in Minneapolis: A classic rock station is gonna play the same five songs they’ve been playing for 20 years.”
To DJ Castelaz’s previous college-radio experience and Keene’s familiarity with creating the occasional ad for local radio station The Lodge, the pair added Gibraltar alumnus David Smrz to serve as the station’s engineer. The trio then set out to create a space for radio listeners who are interested in diversity and exposure to new artists and songs.
“All our shows are so different,” Keene said. “Our Chicago DJ does a jazz show, and it’s all ripped from vinyl. Ryan does The Lion’s Den, and that’s all very modern music.
Keene’s two daily shows – Wake with Make and Late with Make – are wrapped around his role as a station manager who gives all DJs freedom with their music selections.
“Most of the notes I send to my DJs after their shows are more audio related, like, ‘Next time, maybe turn your vocals up a bit more,’” he said. “Creatively, do whatever the hell you want ’cause that’s you, and we want you.”
The members of that DJ team are people with strong Door County links, but Keene, Castelaz, jazz DJ Solomon Lindenberg and the host of the eponymous Listed with Celeste Benzschawel show all currently live out of the county.
With funding for the venture provided by Castelaz’s Discourse Coffee, the station was born on Christmas Eve 2020 with a radio production of a play written by Keene’s grandfather, Paul Sills, who was a founding director of Chicago’s Second City. The play was an adaptation of A Christmas Carol that was accompanied by a curated playlist called Christmas Cookin’ made by Lindenberg.
The costs involved with an online-only radio station are, by nature, low: the hard costs of building and hosting a website, plus the royalty licenses required to broadcast music. The DJs all volunteer their time, recording their shows remotely in their homes, and typically using the same computer setups they use to record their own original music.
What started as a winter diversion has now become a 24/7 radio station, with three daily shows at 7-11 am, 1-5 pm and 7-11 pm; eight DJs; a podcast hosted by Castelaz called Hot Coffee for the Creative Soul; and future plans for live events.
“Since most of the DJs on our roster are musicians, we’re hoping that one day we’ll hold a show where all of us play our sets and raise money for the station,” Keene said.
Visit discourse.coffee/corsair to tune in!