By Susan Gonsalves, Contributing Writer
Above all else, Mark Skin Radio seeks to bring artists and listeners closer together through music, according to its founder, Chris Johnson.
Keeping Boston radio alive
In 2012, Johnson started the experimental free-form, online rock and roll station to keep the tradition of Boston radio stations like WBCN and WFNX alive.
After the beloved giants were taken off the airwaves, Johnson followed the path of WBCN Program Director Sam Kopper, who began operating a throwback digital operation that streamed everything from Bach to Frank Zappa.
“It was a wild and non-commercial oriented music experience done from a mobile recording studio, a restored bus, and I became inspired, bitten by the bug,” Johnson said.
A long-time software engineer, Johnson helped with scheduling, interviewing and artwork for the venture before eventually branching out and setting up his own online collaboration.
One of the early DJs was Mark Schultz, another WBCN fan who did marketing and advertising for Kopper. At first, Schultz pre-recorded a show but switched to live broadcasting, where he’s more in his element.
“The only criteria is that it is good,” Schultz said of his “On the Record” Wednesday night program.
The show features “virtually anything,” the DJ explained. “From 1897, for example, we had Thomas Edison’s first recording.”
Segments like “Flash Back” consist of four songs in a row and a history of the artist, while “Warped News You Can Use” could “air the police blotter from somewhere in Montana,” Schultz said.
Other features are songs written by one notable performer for another and covers of popular tunes.
Johnson emphasized that listeners can enjoy a variety of styles of music, far beyond mainstream rock and roll. The library has 140,000 songs currently, and is always growing.
Audience grows beyond Boston
Having added a total of 20 DJs from around North America and even in the United Kingdom over the years, their programs highlight an eclectic mix of tastes—blues, jazz, alternative, folk, opera….
What was that?
Mark Skin’s newest DJ is Kirsten Chervinsky, a nurse originally from California who immersed herself in the Boston-area music scene while at Mass General—listening to punk, vocal and Americana and acting as a guest DJ once a year for a college station.
Following her husband’s death, she became a fan of Mark Skin and now has a “Rock Opera” program on Wednesday night. She and Schultz are among the DJs to also fill in on Sunday’s Supper Serenade.
Chervinsky’s mother is a vocal instructor and opera singer who dubbed her daughter’s program as airing “the two screaming art forms.”
The DJ said she learns a lot about arias from both her mother and listeners and is able to provide context and generate questions and interest in the art form.
Now working at Fenway Health, Chervinsky said it is also important to her that the LGBTQ community has its musicians represented.
At the heart of Mark Skin Radio is exposing listeners to new local artists and giving them a forum.
Johnson noted that he is continually impressed by the quality of new musicians out there just needing exposure to get a break in the industry. The station conducts interviews with them and occasionally produces and hosts special music events where they can perform.
DJs working from home and continuing to grow audience during pandemic
The pandemic has not really slowed Mark Skin Radio at all as the DJs work from home using their own equipment. Johnson noted that a sound studio is not required. All that is needed is the internet, a microphone and a computer connection.
He said that the audience actually grew this past year, attributing the hike to people being home looking for something to do and checking out online offerings.
Johnson added that they strive to blur the distinction between listeners, musicians and DJs.
“It’s a community,” agreed Chervinsky. “And I love that we all collaborate and support each other.”
Schultz said that audience members on Facebook can interact with him while he’s on live, and frequently make comments and song requests.
He harkens what Mark Skin Radio is doing now with back in the day when he’d bring a new vinyl record home, put it on the turntable and invite friends over to listen.
“I love that we can share and turn each other on to stuff so that we can all appreciate great artistry together,” Schultz said. “I feel like I’m doing something that counts.”
For more information, visit www.markskinradio.com.