Pizza FM isn’t your typical radio station. Or a typical college radio station, for that matter.
The non-commercial, online outlet prides itself on being a free space for music-lovers and artists alike to have a platform to express their work or work with music.
With over 70 different shows each week, running online from 11 a.m. to midnight (give or take an hour depending on the day), the outlet has long been an outpost for musical expression and discovery.
But over the last year, the University of Illinois registered student organization has grown from 67 active members to 102, and with that growth has come a renewed focus.
The folks at Pizza FM want to do more than just be a room in Allen Hall with a DJ booth and a connection to the limitless airwaves of the internet, they want to truly cross into the local music scene and become an integral part of it.
So they’ve started throwing shows.
President and Illinois senior Charlie Nudelman has made it a focus of his agenda to bridge the gap between the airwaves and live events. He and the executive committee that run the organization are also beginning to churn out more written content on their website, with album and song reviews to go along with artist features and event promotion.
“As a radio station, we've kind of been progressing as far as our membership with numbers and people who are interested in radio,” Nudelman said. “So that was kind of the kickstart of everything, because without support, we wouldn't be anything.”
Fresh off a Halloween-themed house show just off campus in Urbana last weekend, the organization is more bullish about its place on the scene and the potential for more and even larger shows.
Creative director Jonathan Barry, who joined Pizza FM his first semester on campus, was eager to push the outlet in a more content and event-driven direction. Now a senior, he’s been encouraged by the organization’s development in his time in Champaign-Urbana.
“There's this whole other aspect of the organization where we create things,” Barry said. “We create 'zines, we create show flyers, we put on events. That all falls under what we call the Pizza FM creative team.”
Back in February, Pizza FM collaborated with student magazine startup, The Collective, on a house show that benefitted Planned Parenthood.
Encouraged by a strong turnout at that, the two groups gave it another run. This time benefitting area organization Courage Connection, which provides housing and supportive services to victims of domestic violence.
With a $5 suggested donation at the door, the event raised close to $1,000 for Courage Connection.
“Not that long ago, Pizza FM didn't have very much creative output,” Barry said. “We had like a blog, but really there were just some pretty brief write-ups and that was basically that. I guess in terms of our artistic direction, being artistic sort of is the direction in a sense. We finally have cut our teeth on this and are in the habit of actually trying to push to put more things out.”
Owning its non-commercial status, Pizza FM is planning more events down the road, and is hoping to soon be able to orchestrate even larger events, potentially at The Canopy Club in Urbana.
For Nudelman, the organization has been instrumental in his growth in interest in underground music. It has also connected him with a large number of similarly-minded people on campus and in the area.
“We all have that shared value of supporting small, underexposed art,” Nudelman said. “Because of that, [Pizza FM] has given me a lot of contact with people I doubt I would have had contact with otherwise. And really, Pizza FM showed me that what you invest in something is kind of what you get in return.”
Junior Dirk Molek is the group’s house party czar. Yes, that’s his actual position.
Molek’s main job has been to get the organization established as event-throwers and promoters, rather than just being a radio station with supplementary written content.
When Pizza FM elects its new executive board at the end of the semester, Molek is planning on moving into a role where he will be more involved in managing content and generating content for the outlet, but he said he’s enjoyed getting the group off the ground in the area music scene.
He’s an idealist when it comes to what he wants the outlet to develop into before he leaves campus at the end of next school year.
“I feel like at this school there aren't many free, creative outlets for kids,” Molek said. “There are a few magazines — actually, there are more magazines starting to pop up now. When Pizza FM was started, we all kind of realized we should make this more of an overarching idea of a club. It's based in the radio station, but it's also in some ways like Vice or on the website, or maybe even more of like The Fader.”
Like The Fader, Molek sees Pizza FM as a place to dive into new and often obscure music. The station plays virtually everything, from alternative to punk, to throwback hits, to hip-hop, to a mix of it all.
“A lot of DJ's on Pizza FM play a lot of deeper music you won't here on the normal radio or WPGU, and I think it's very good for music discovery,” Molek said. “If you're trying to look for new music, you should just tune in for a bit. Someone will play something you've never heard of.”
In the future, Molek and his cohorts at the outlet want it to grow into something well-known on campus and in Champaign-Urbana for curating and giving a platform to underexposed, developing artists and their work.
Eventually, Molek hopes, Pizza FM will resonate eminently with anyone who scrapes the surface of the area music scene.
“I would like it to be a very central part of the scene here,” Molek said. “In a way, that kind of is able to attract more kids, more like-minded kids to the University especially. I want kids to come down here and here about Pizza like before they even apply and be like, 'Oh, this seems like a cool place to go to school.”
There are many steps to be taken before that thought can turn into reality, but Pizza FM has a lot going for it.
With a growing, involved group of students, a variety of content, and promising early results with live events, there is reason to Pizza FM thinking bigger.
Photos provided by PIzza FM