Amping up my radio audience through live events – and ale

It was an incredible thing to see 200 people crammed into a Tenderloin bar all swinging beer glasses and singing along with the refrain of a raucous Finnish drinking song. And when the singers performed the melancholy Chinese drinking song, the room was entirely hushed. You could have heard a malt worm creep.

Drinking Songs Audience

Singing the ale songs of auld.

“Drinking/Songs: A Night Of Beer and The Music That Goes With It, exploring the ancient, global link between ale and song, was the first in a series I hope will build a more engaged sense of community – and potentially forge a revenue stream – around VoiceBox, the weekly, syndicated public radio and podcast I host and produce. It looks promising. The event, in late May at 50 Mason Social House in downtown San Francisco, was packed; there was a line out the door and around the block at 7:45 p.m.

My premise is to create truly immersive, interactive live experiences to enhance the program’s impact and reach. VoiceBox taps into the work of singers, songwriters and vocal music experts from across a wide range of backgrounds to stimulate in-depth, high quality discussions about the human voice. It aims to encourage listeners to broaden their musical horizons and participate in singing activities of their own.

The audience at 50 Mason got to taste seven beers inspired by seven different global brewing traditions from Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Delaware (e.g. a Chinese beer, a Finnish beer, a Scottish beer, a Belgian beer etc…) and join in with the six-member professional vocal ensemble (we dubbed the group The Fill A Steins) on a few of the drinking songs the singers paired with the beers throughout the evening.

We had a discussion led by beer cicerone (guide) Sayre Piotrkowski and the singers, and recorded the whole thing for radio and podcast. An edited version of the show will be available starting next Friday night on KALW (and a few other radio stations) and iTunes.

The event also generated a decent profit and a lot of goodwill. Plus it was a lot of fun, albeit a lot of work, to put together.

VoiceBox was launched under the auspices of KALW 91.7 FM San Francisco in January 2010. Podcasts can be found at The program is now available on several stations throughout California as well as via a free weekly podcast on iTunes (kalwvoicebox).