I find often that the most creative programming comes from the smallest stations. You can't escape scrutiny with a Class A license serving a community of a million people. But WMUC is one of the few remaining Class D licenses. They serve College Park, Maryland with 10 watts of power. It's the closest thing Washington DC has to a "college voice" yet they do not serve any of downtown D.C. In some ways, they seem better off for it because programs like this get to exist. This week I played 20 questions with Justin Johnston former host of 8-Bit Radio. It is the first and only radio program in America showcasing videogame music.
JoseFritz: when did you first launch the program?
Justin: I got the idea to do the show after I signed up to be an engineer at WMUC, the public radio station at the University of Maryland. That was in January 2008. My junior year at UMD
JoseFritz: Did you do any programs before that?
Justin: No, I had never really had the opportunity to be on the radio before, which is why I jumped at the chance. I grew up with video games and loved video game music, but I hadn't really gotten into the scene until that point. I should probably make it clear that the show wasn't just 8-Bit stuff, but all video game music. I know the name is misleading.
JoseFritz: Were you ripping this music directly from games?
Justin: Oh no, there were plenty of sources online for video game soundtracks. A lot of people who did just that- ripped the music directly off the disks.
JoseFritz: what was the listener response like to this totally novel show?
Justin: Mixed at first, honestly. When I proposed the show to the officers at WMUC. I got some negative reactions from the more "hipster" members who would rather have another show playing indie punk rock. …Not to pick on punk rock. I just played the music I grew up with and loved.
JoseFritz: Did you develop a taste for any of the non-video game 8-bit music out there?
Justin: Oh absolutely. I featured a great album from Teleidofusion: a trio of Russian musicians. The album name is Around Past, and I'd really recommend it. There are a ton of 8-Bit cover albums out there. I've been scouring the Internet for this music for 2 years now. I love finding great new albums to plug on the show
JoseFritz: So did you find there was enough music out there to do a two hour program?
Justin: Oh sure, the more you look into it the more great music you find. There are sites like OCRemix.org and VGMix making great remixes and putting them up for free no less and since I was on public radio I was allowed to play original soundtracks as well. I always did the show at odd hours: 4-6AM, 8-10AM and I didn't really talk much on the show.
JoseFritz: The WMUC archive for the program ended in May of 2009. Was that really the end of the program?
Justin: ...Of 8-Bit Radio, yes. That's when I graduated. I still have a show but not on traditional FM radio. I found a site that shares similar interests. I love WMUC, and as much as I wanted to keep doing my show on FM radio I didn't want to be one of those WMUC alums who kept doing their show. I didn't want to take up a spot from a student.
Justin continues to support 8-Bit video game music on his new program Radio Free Gamer via the 8bitX Radio Network. You can tune in live to his radio show every Wednesday or download the podcast.