Discover more from Knyvet
Kristen Eck innovates with BumbleBee Radio
What started as a pandemic project for the Boston helicopter reporter has rekindled a long-standing love affair with alt-rock radio
Independent digital radio, where today’s indie meets classic alternative
SEPTEMBER 2021 [Boston, Mass.] -- Kristen Eck comes from a family of inventors. But with BumbleBee Radio, she’s not looking to invent the online streaming radio format, but innovate it in a way that maintains a voice and purpose in an evolving world of internet and entertainment options.
Launched in April 2020 as a home pandemic project from her residence in Beverly, Massachusetts, Eck has been broadcasting to the Greater Boston area 24/7 every day ever since, with the digital station’s flagship show a two-hour new music showcase every Friday from 10 a.m. to noon EDT dubbed the BumbleBee Brunch. For Eck, the longtime Boston helicopter reporter (look up for her high in the sky when stuck in traffic around the city), broadcasting on the radio has been in her blood since her childhood on Cape Cod, dragging a six-foot-wide Radio Shack antenna up to her parents Barnstable Village roof to capture the sound of WBCN (Boston), WHJY (Providence), and WAAF (Worcester).
“There never really was a question about what I loved from the time I was old enough to comprehend anything,” Eck says. “I loved my little portable AM radio that at one time belonged to my dad. That was before I confiscated it -- at the age of four -- and made it my constant companion. An awkward undersized little boy that was about to learn he was really a she found comfort and friendship in a little leatherbound transistor radio that brought the joyful sound of music into her life.”
Eck, who transitioned in 2016, says her issues at a young age with gender identity led to “a very isolated and lonely existence,” and it was soon radio that would become her best friend and an outlet for expression. Her creativity blossomed in 1988 when she got a start in radio at Cape Cod Community College radio station 90.7 FM WKKL eventually becoming program director and curated a playlist that leaned heavily on alternative rock and the wealth of sounds coming across the Atlantic from the U.K.
Though her career in the decades since has taken her over to the news and talk side of radio, the seeds Eck planted at WKKL -- which now simulcasts her BumbleBee Brunch every Friday, all these years later -- would go on to shape the musical identity of the ever-evolving BumbleBee Radio, which takes a creative cue from legendary stations like WBCN, WFNX, WBRU, and BBC-6 Music and combines ultra new releases and local music with the classic alternative sound that’s become its own burgeoning genre. With 1,500-plus songs in the BumbleBee catalog, including more than 300 released over the past year alone, Eck is connecting a musical lineage from classic alternative to modern indie rock on a playlist that is crafted with a voice and a vision for those who remember when rock radio had something to say.
“BumbleBee Radio was built primarily to share underheard music,” Eck says proudly. “Most stations are built first as a business and then find a music format that fits-in with the business model. I put the music and station voice first, focusing on what I do best. Since BumbleBee Radio is not reliant on ratings or appeasing advertisers it leaves me free to take chances on new music.”
Eck has worn many hats over the years dating back to her time at WKKL -- news anchor and operations manager for stations WXTK and WCOD; co-editor of the Subversize Green Rhino webzine; co-owner of indie label Subversive Green Records; co-founder and co-host of the Angry Mancave podcast -- but it’s at BumbleBee where her musical vision and creativity flourish. It’s where classics from Kate Bush and New Order play alongside locals like Little Fuss and The Chelsea Curve, and new music, like Indigo de Souza and The Accidentals, are weaved seamlessly into the mix, often playing indie and alternative music that the commercial stations left behind.
“Good music is good music. Period,” Eck says, who remembers struggling to get radio stations to add songs from her label in the early 2000s, and wants to break down the barrier that exists for new and emerging artists to get airtime. “Unsigned and ‘local’ music is played side-by-side with everyone else on BumbleBee Radio. If a song is good enough to be on the radio then it's good enough to be on the radio at any time in the day, not just 10 p.m. on Sunday night.”
That’s why BumbleBee has made a quick mark in its first year, developing a dedicated core listener base that tune in for extended periods of time, rarely hearing the same song twice. Even the heavy rotation tracks, illustrated weekly in her ongoing Top 20 graphics on social media, aren’t replayed after several hours of streaming. Part of the appeal and charm of BumbleBee Radio is not knowing what Eck will spin at any given time, a sharp contrast to the predictability of radio in 2021.
“BumbleBee Radio is designed for others like me who want to find something unique and non-repetitive that can be a musical companion throughout the day,” adds Eck. “Even with an eclectic open-minded audience I think you still need some sense of familiarity in the mix and that's why the classic tracks are there -- and because truly good music doesn't stop being good music. BumbleBee Radio is not designed to compete with FM radio or streaming services like Spotify. Those who swear by those listening experiences will likely continue to do so. BumbleBee Radio is for people who enjoy the passive listening experience and are open to discovering new music.”
And these days, that’s an invention all on its own.
A message from Kristen Eck of BumbleBee Radio:
“Hello! I'm Kristen Eck. Owner, host, and program-director of BumbleBee Radio! What is it we do here? We play Indie Music, Alternative, Electronica, Hip-Hop, and Jazz.
You'll hear music you recognize from artists like Pixies, Guru, Björk, The B-52's, Beastie Boys, and Radiohead, but you'll also encounter a ton of new tunes you might not be familiar with. We also proudly feature Boston & New England area artists side-by-side with everyone else, regardless of whether they're signed to a record label. Hopefully you'll find a new favorite song or artist along the way! If you like what you hear please tell your friends about BumbleBee Radio!”
BumbleBee Radio press photo:
BumbleBee Brunch Playlist 09/03/21:
Red Hot Chili Peppers - Love Rollercoaster (1996)
Blunt Bangs - Odessa (2021)
The Clash - London Calling (1979)
Elke - The Pink Tip of a Match Turns Black (2021)
RoseR - Quarantimes (2021)
Death Cab For Cutie - Soul Meets Body (2005)
Sugar - If I Can’t Change Your Mind (1992)
CHVRCHES - Violent Delights (2021)
The Style Council - Shout to the Top (1984)
The Chelsea Curve - Inconceivable (2021)
Paper Tigers - Ursa Minor (2021)
Chassol - Birds Pt. 1 (2015)
Kate Bush - Babooshka (1980)
Ishmael Ensemble - Empty Hands (2021)
Adi Sun - Bella Sun Lever (ZIZZA Remix) (2021)
The Velvet Underground - Rock & Roll (1969)
New Order - Age of Consent (1983)
Spencer Cullum - Imminent Shadow (2021)
Cowboy Mouth - Jenny Says (1994)
The Accidentals - Slow & Steady (2021)
Johnny Marr - Spirit, Power & Soul (2021)
Fitz & The Tantrums - Spark (2013)
They Might Be Giants - Istanbul (Not Constantinople) (1990)
E.VAX - Manila (2021)
The Teardowns - Oh, Barcelona! (2021)
The Orb & Lee Scratch Perry - Golden Clouds (2012)
The The - August & September (1989)