Jolt Radio gives a surge to South Florida arts and music scene

Jolt Radio founder John Caignet in his station’s new Allapattah location, a former Western Union building that has since been transformed into an art studio, record store, coffee shop and radio station.
Jolt Radio founder John Caignet in his station’s new Allapattah location, a former Western Union building that has since been transformed into an art studio, record store, coffee shop and radio station. For the Miami Herald

If you streamed Jolt Radio right now, it would be nearly impossible to predict what you’d hear.

You may find yourself listening to a track from a local band’s most recent album on Brian Kurtz’s program, “Limited Fanfare Radio,” or mambo and cha-cha-cha recordings from the late 1950s on “Softer than Satin.” Perhaps you’d hear an interview by humorist Buzz Fleishman on “On the Record and Off the Wall,” or sports talk on “The Miami Sports Meltdown.”

It could be any of Jolt Radio’s 40 weekly, biweekly and monthly programs, live broadcasts from a local venue, one of several syndicated podcasts such as Neil Degrasse Tyson’s “Star Talk Radio” or an algorithmically determined playlist that kicks in after hours.

Chances are you’ll find something that appeals to you.

According to founder John Caignet, the great-grandson of Cuban radio pioneer Felix B. Caignet, this broad and unconventional approach to radio is intrinsic to what makes it work in as diverse an artistic environment as South Florida.

“When I first started Jolt Radio, I thought Miami needed a support system that helps local artist to be heard in a way that wasn’t happening at the time,” he said. “Our programming is varied and not for those looking for a particular genre or level of notoriety.”

Jolt Radio began in 2010 when Caignet, his brother Pedro, Stephanie Sarria, Jonathan Suarez, Piero Rodriguez and a handful of other DJs began broadcasting live from Caignet’s apartment. Within the year, they’d moved the operation to a proper studio and welcomed in a score of additional hosts. The station has moved from Tamiami Park to Wynwood to its current location in Allapattah.

“It was exciting to go from doing the shows in an apartment to doing them in a real brick-and-mortar location where we all could meet, hang out and grow together musically,” Sarria said. “We’ve become great friends and our chemistry has translated into how well our programming works. It’s a continuous flow, so a lot of thought and communication goes into how it works.”

Because it operates online rather than on the radio waves, Jolt Radio isn’t technically radio and is not subject to FCC regulations; but it must still adhere to certain rules. The station runs on a pair of servers owned by companies to which Caignet pays monthly service fees that also cover artist royalties. Broadcasts may be listened to for free: live through the Jolt Radio app (now available for iPhone and coming soon to Android) and on; or archived through a service called MixCloud (for which there is also an app). To avoid copyright issues, the shows many not be rewound or downloaded.

“There are certain regulations we must follow in not playing hit songs, which you wouldn’t hear on Jolt anyway,” he said.

Part of the station’s income comes from on-site event DJing and live promotions by Caignet and other hosts using a custom-made mobile DJ booth at places including Churchill’s Pub, the Electric Pickle and Gramps. Caignet recently sent off a second mobile booth to a DJ in Spain named Io Browdowski for a monthly rental fee. Brodowski’s show, “Danzinside,” airs on Jolt every Sunday at 4 p.m.

“The reach we’ve gotten still blows my mind,” Caignet said. “We have over 100,000 tune-ins a month from places as far away as China, Australia and Russia — countries where we don’t do any marketing whatsoever.”

Within the next couple months, Caignet will debut Jolt TV, a YouTube channel accessible through the website that will feature live shows and prerecorded programming, including “Soundwaves,” a musical variety show he developed with DJ Frankie Guzman that he describes as “Pee-wee Herman meets David Letterman meets ‘Wayne’s World.’”

“People love radio, but to be able to see the space is a completely different thing we’re now getting into,” he said.

Despite Jolt Radio’s growth, Caignet’s main objective remains the same: to provide a platform upon which art, music and ideas can be shared freely and inclusively. The station still relies on ad revenue, but Caignet has turned away big ticket advertisers to avoid conflicts of interest with regard to branding. Like the shows he curates, he prefers the ads that his station airs and displays on its website come from small, independent businesses and artists.

“I’ve been offered a lot of money to run ads for big corporations,” he said. “But imagine you’re listening and all of a sudden hear a commercial telling you to buy a new pair of glow-in-the-dark shoes from some big shoe company. How would that fit in? That’s not what I’m going for. If it was, there would be no such thing as Jolt Radio anyway.”