Labor of love: Luxuria Music spins with all volunteers

In a small studio on the far edge of Glendale, a worldwide flow of music is in a moment of transition. On the turntable is a 45rpm disc of spectral, hypnotic sounds from 1980, as radio DJ Lee Joseph begins winding down his two-hour show on The record is “I’m Sorry,” a vinyl artifact of outsider music by the all-female art-punk band the Inflatable Boy Clams, a quartet as obscure as the music is exotic.

Standing just outside the doorway is Kat Griffin, whose “Madly Cocktail” show is up next. She’s brought about 200 jazz CDs with her. “Hey, Lee! Felacity played that on Saturday,” Griffin says with a laugh, mentioning Friday host Felacity Dickman. “Yeah, we were cracking up. It’s awesome.”

The studio at Luxuria Music is a one-room operation, in the corner of a suite of creative office space in the old Tropico neighborhood of Glendale. One soundproofed wall is covered in a black-and-white leopard print, and station banners designed by a pair of Disney artists (both fans of the station) hang nearby. The look and vibe of the space match the music being broadcast: mid-century sounds ready for the chill-out room, ranging from jazz and exotica to pop and early punk.

“We’re preserving and presenting music to people that we’re all passionate about — we’re record collectors, historians, music geeks,” says Joseph, with black sideburns down to his chin and a necklace of stars dangling over his chest. He is also owner of the Burbank indie label Dionysus Records, and his radio playlist today was dedicated to female-fronted acts. “All of us believe it’s really important to preserve this music and keep it going. You always get new people hearing this old stuff.”

The move into this shiny studio three weeks ago represents a step-up for the all-volunteer station. Luxuria’s last studio was in a century-old apartment building near Dodger Stadium at the crossroads of the 5 and 2 Freeways and the Los Angeles River, an area known in some circles as a favorite spot to dump a body. In the next bedroom was a roommate and his dog.

“Nobody is getting paid here and they do it out of a labor of love,” says station owner Cliff Chase. “They give a lot of their time and they donate equipment because the station is so important to them.”

Luxuria Music began in 2000 as just one musical stream in a collection of online radio stations owned by Enigma Digital, including heavy metal stalwart and EDM outlet A year later, the company was bought by Clear Channel, which spun off some of the radio properties and pulled Luxuria’s plug.

One listener who noticed was Chase, a Bay Area software sales engineer who had once studied radio and television. Chase missed the music enough to buy the domain name. For his general manager, he recruited Chuck Kelley, one of the original station’s creative founders and a music consultant on Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction.”

“We worked together to relaunch it,” says Chase, 50. “I was running it out of my garage in San Francisco for about three years.”

Though the station’s entire music stream was initially programmed by automated computer (the Luxotron 10000), live DJs were reconvened in 2006 in Los Angeles. The current nighttime and weekend schedule fills about a third of each day with live hosts, from “Listen! Listen!” with singer-songwriter Tiffany Anders on Tuesdays to “The Michael Quercio Paisley Underground Consortium” every Sunday. Daytime and overnight hours are programmed automatically with the Luxotron.

To make the move to Glendale, live broadcasts were shut down for seven weeks over the holidays. Luxuria Music reopened with live hosts at its new studio on January 5th. “Cliff and I pulled an 18-hour day to make sure that the studio was plugged in,” says Griffin. “It was our Christmas miracle.”

Chase has longterm plans to expand the station’s stream onto smart phones and through automobile Internet access, while adding more DJs and expanding the music library. Those improvements will depend on the station’s annual fundraising drive, coming in February, which Chase hopes will help lead Luxuria to “at least the break even point and pay off our debt over time.” Equipment purchases owe much to listener support, including a turntable donated by Cramps guitarist Poison Ivy.

Inside the new studio, the end of Lee Joseph’s “Over Under Sideways Down” show has come and gone, and Griffin is now behind the microphone, monitoring the station’s active chatroom on a computer screen. As usual, she’s turned the room’s video camera towards the wall. “I’m a radio person,” she explains. “I don’t need the camera.”

She spins a series of uptempo jazz tracks — including Lee Morgan’s “Latin Hangover” and Dave Pike’s “Aphrodite,” followed by a funky instrumental from 1969 called “Hikky-Burr” by Quincy Jones. You won’t often find the likes of Miles Davis or John Coltrane on “Madly Cocktail,” though Griffin revers both bebop giants. Her show is designed less for brooding than it is party jazz. To include a bit of “Kind of Blue” or “A Love Supreme” into this upbeat mix would be “sacrilege,” she insists.

“If we’re playing music that thousands of people want to listen to, then we’re not doing our job,” she jokes of the music on Luxuria. “We’re definitely reaching for a special group of people.”

Her husband is Allen “Charmin’” Larman, another host at Luxuria. Both are devoted radio and music veterans, with years of experience at a variety of local broadcast and online radio outlets. “We can't afford to buy a house because we buy records. That's the kind of crazy people me and my husband are,” Griffin says happily. “Some people have kids. We have radio shows.”

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