‘I'm looking at a poster on the wall of the canteen where we're sitting right now, which says, “I feel like we were being loud enough. When do you start listening? Question mark, unhappy face.” When we started tuning into listening as a research method at the end of last year, things at KABK were quite calm but after the suspension of our director this spring, and the protests that followed, listening has gained new urgency in this context. So even though it wasn't really the point of departure for this project, it does need to find a way to include it and relate to it.’
Alice Twemlow

Report of KABK Design Lectorate Research Club III x Mushroom Radio
Listening & Radio, Wednesday 24 May, 2023
Guests: Mushroom Radio, founders Benjamin Earl and Jack Bardwell, successor Sophie Allerding (MR 2021), current Mushroom Radio makers Hanna Burgers, Nienke Roth and Ira Grünberger

By Pam Breedveld

Located at the center of the academy and, for many, seen as its heart, the canteen was where the first Mushroom Radio show was aired in 2017. So it was apt that when the KABK Design Lectorate invited Mushroom Radio founders, Benjamin Earl and Jack Bardwell, to host a special club meeting/radio show reflecting back on the history of their initiative, they chose to locate it in the birthplace of the student-run radio. They simply pulled together some table and set up their equipment. Joining them at the still-sticky tables in the canteen were Mushroom alumnus Sophie Allerding and current radio-running students Hanna, Nienke, and Ira (all graduating BA Photography students).

With the Research Club discussion they embarked on a nostalgic journey, to revisit the roots of their radio station, which began with ‘just one stick with a microphone attached to it’, and their position within the institution. Additionally, this show delved into broader contemplations about the nature of medium and the ways the topic of listening is connected to their initiative, the individual practices, and to radio in general. The report highlights a few excerpts of the conversation.

Photo Jack Bardwell Sophie Allerding Mushroom Radio Research Club Listening III 2023

Radio and Politics

Bob Fass, the ‘guy that kind of invented late night radio’ and who built a strong community of listeners organized parties and protests, an inspiration for Jack. ‘People would be be huddled around their portable radios, using them to find out where the police were.’

Alice Twemlow: ‘Is radio inherently political?’

Jack Bardwell: ‘I think so. I mean, a communication medium, like a mass communication medium, effectively is what you've got. So it's hard for that not to be political [...] And, it’s not only about the content. It's even about playing music. For example, in London, in the 80s, there was no way you could listen to black music on the radio. There were some mainstream BBC stations that played soul music, but it was still like a white guy playing these solo records. And then pirate radio stations were literally made, to play music that you couldn't hear on the radio, music that was often for those communities.’

Alice Twemlow: ‘Sophie's doing some vigorous nodding.’

Sophie Allerding: ‘Yeah, I think prior to experiencing radio as a community building tool, radio was for me more connected with — especially coming from Germany — with political power taking over and manipulation of masses.’

Alice Twemlow: ‘A very negative connotation?’

Sophie Allerding: ‘Yeah, and I think, only later I discovered also the other side of the power of radio as a subversive tool.’

Photo Ira Hanna Burgers Benjamin Earl Mushroom Radio Crop Research Club Listening III 2023


Alice Twemlow: ‘[...] I also wanted to mention what I see here on this table, which is basically the guts of the radio kit, right? There’s a whole tangle of wires and things plugged into things, which are probably really important. And controls and dials and monitors. And, to me, it signals a kind of invitation, or suggests a level of accessibility —of unblackboxing—which seems fundamentally democratic , somehow. And that's a thing that I hold on to with radio.’

Benjamin Earl: ‘I haven't really thought about that before, like the mess being accessible. I always thought of it as being intimidating.’

Alice Twemlow: ‘But less intimidating than the algorithms of Spotify, for example.’

Jack Bardwell: ‘Yeah, exactly. At least it’s tangible, physical.’

Benjamin Earl: ‘We can follow the wires.’

Photo Mushroom Radio Research Club Listening III 2023

Radio makers and their listeners

Benjamin Earl: ‘We've learned to embrace the fact that we are narrowcasting rather than broadcasting…’


Benjamin Earl: ‘…I mean, we can't talk to everybody. We can't address everybody. We're happy that the few people that we do have listening to us, really listen to us, and engage as well. That's why we have a chat room on our website and stuff like that, because people talk to us. It's very rare, apart from on certain occasions where you have more than a few people really engaging with you. And it's partly the scenario of listening to one another in the space itself. Like the act of doing the radio show almost for the sake of doing it, whether people are listening or not, maybe it doesn't matter. If you listen in that space to one another during that time where you're sitting together, then something already is created and connections are made. And that's, I think, what I find the most valuable part is the actual activity of doing it.’

Jack Bardwell: ‘Yeah, just having headphones and microphones around in front of us instantly makes a different way of talking and listening to each other where it’s more like a dialogue in a book where it's like, one person speaks then stops and the other person speaks. So there is more of this like moment that you create of true listeningLike Ben says, it's a more engaged listening. And then we also make recordings, and then you have people listening back to a show that way.’

Alice Twemlow: ‘Do you ever edit a show?’

Jack Bardwell: ‘No, we are not a podcast.

‘We've learned to embrace the fact that we are narrowcasting rather than broadcasting…’
Benjamin Earl