#RFBatHome (Part 1): Rachel Cleary of “Hear and Now with RachelC.” broadcasting from E. Harlem home

Hello everyone! As I write these words we are all in the midst of the pandemic of our lifetime. COVID-19 has changed our lives in ways unforeseen and unimaginable, but Radio Free Brooklyn continues to broadcast 24/7. Starting this week and while “NYC on Pause” lasts, we’ll feature one of our many hosts who continue to do their weekly shows — from home!We hope you enjoy #RFBatHome 🙂

In hopes all of you (and all your loves) are and remain safe and well.
MicheleC (your friendly redheaded Editorial Director)

My name is Rachel Cleary and I’ve been hosting “Hear and Now with Rachel C.” on Radio Free Brooklyn since November 2015. Yet three weeks ago, continuing to produce the show — and generate new weekly content — suddenly became more important than it has ever been.

I’ve been involved with RFB from the beginning… the way beginning, when Robert Prichard (who was sitting next to me on our couch) turned to Tom Tenney (who was sitting in a chair across the table) and said, “Let’s build an internet radio station!” And they did. My initial role was as “General Gal Friday.” I unlocked the studio if hosts were locked out, I reached out to venues, threw up stickers, got materials to different locations, created the #RFBK hashtag and posted shots on Instagram — so I guess I was our initial social media person.  My first on-air appearance was during our marathon live session in May 2015 during Bushwick Open Studios where we invited passersby to come into our studio (which back then was in the basement of a busy bike repair shop), see what we were about and be live-interviewed.

Rachel and Marley

Rachel’s faithful co-producer, Marley

“Hear and Now with Rachel C.” started as a real-time celebration of live performance culture. Each week I’d invite a performer to do whatever it is they did and then we would talk about it. It felt like a way to keep the NYC performance arts scene that I had known as a performer, alive. It also quickly grew to include the celebration of activism in the arts in its description as it became clear that my guests were all clearly influenced by what was happening around them both politically and socially. So since November 2015, every Thursday at 7pm, I have introduced a guest, read listings of live shows to go out and see, chatted with the guests about their live performance experiences, and had the privilege of watching them do what they do right in front of me.

Then came March 2020 and coronavirus, which became very real, very fast. Venues closed, guests started cancelling and Governor Cuomo decided we all needed to stay home. How could I continue to host a show about live performance culture where there were no longer any live gatherings? But I still had some guests lined up, so I reached out to one and asked if he was open to doing an interview via Zoom and having it edited into a pre-recorded broadcast. He was down and we winged it. After editing (thank you Robert!), I discovered our dog Marley was quite audible during the interview — but I left her in and even included it in an Instagram promo. That got some attention: I was contacted by two different artists that day. A publicist who had tried to schedule a phone-in interview for an artist I had previously declined (because my show was after all, live), was back on.

In just 48 hours the show I’d thought would air repeats for the duration of the pandemic was now booked for the next four weeks, live scene or no. Suddenly I was speaking with artists with whom I might have never had the opportunity to interview given their physical distance: the young women in the U.K.-based band Genn; an eighteen-year-old songwriting prodigy who had to drop off a tour and go home to Utah. And closer to home, frontwoman Eliza Waldman of Eliza and the Organix, and a musician and music teacher struggling to find compromise in Brooklyn. They all had different but similar stories.

Broadcasting from home has been a challenging transition to say the least. I don’t have a desk or office space in my apartment. My production space needs to be set up whenever it’s time to work and immediately struck when I’m done. I’m learning to use tedious software when I’m used to doing everything in real time, thinking on my feet and with a more dynamic set up. And then there’s how much longer it takes to put a show together, as opposed to one live hour in the studio.

I didn’t think I would still be doing new shows, but here I am. I try to maintain the integrity of “Hear and Now” by keeping its structure as similar to an in-studio show as possible, but it’s not the same. There are no live performances (due to concerns with audio quality). Yet I feel that in this moment, what’s important is not just to celebrate live performance culture, but to help preserve it; to help maintain the sense of connection between performing artists and listeners. Providing fresh content  every week helps keep people engaged and aware of what we’re doing at RFB, and that’s important. I always wanted what I did to be an engine of service to the arts and it’s feeling like it is — ha, these last few weeks, it’s more like a mission!

Tune in to “Hear and Now with RachelC.” Thursdays at 7pm.