As the temperature dropped towards zero on a recent Wednesday night, it was only beginning to heat up in the WNUR radio studio in Louis Hall.
“It’s done got real cold real fast,” Jack Blackstone says, as he kicked off the first Dial Up radio show of 2016.
After bantering about everything from the bone-chilling weather to the significance of Kesha’s smash hit “Tik Tok,” members of Dial Up were ready to start their three hour show full of energetic, eclectic music.
But with a newfound focus on artistic endeavors ranging from creative stickers and podcasts to videos and parties at La Macchina, Dial Up has seen a complete transformation in the past year. What started off as a weekly radio show by six music lovers has evolved into an ever-growing art collective, with three new members and ventures ranging from an online magazine to DJing parties on campus. The group’s off-beat sense of humor and unique taste of music, alongside the individual members’ different passions and talents, has garnered a fan base both on campus as well as worldwide.
From the beginning, Dial Up has always been a way for a group of close friends to hang out and bond over their shared passion for music. The radio show, which is a part of WNUR’s Streetbeat program, began last year with juniors Michael Martinez and Bomani McClendon alongside sophomores Jack Blackstone, Ajoni Hopkins, Andrew Jennings and David Nkemere, all of whom formed a tight friendship living in Willard.
It’s this friendship that makes Dial Up so unique, as the show is an everyday part of the group members’ lives. Outside the studio, the group is constantly together, exchanging ideas, music and visions for Dial Up.
This translates into a show that flows as seamlessly as a conversation between good friends...because that is exactly what it is.
“It's kind of cool because working with your friends is never actually work,” Jennings says.
During their weekly show from 12 a.m. to 3 a.m. on Thursday mornings, the group rotates DJing sets and handling the microphone, chatting with their listeners, doing sketches and cracking jokes, often at the expense of each other. All of the DJs play sets of different songs that they mix together to create a cohesive sound. Nkemere says that the music they play ranges from “super duper lovey dovey R&B music” to music you could “hide a dead body to.”
While the show is still full of fun and jokes, members of Dial Up agreed that this year, the show is more mature. Last year, shows could be packed with upwards of 35 people in the studio, a rowdy atmosphere that Jennings describes as a “miniature party.” The DJs needed to shout into the microphones and play music that would keep up the energy in the room, distracting the group from their vision for the show.
“It’s a totally different vibe, when you have [so many] other people in the studio,” Hopkins says. “Sometimes you kind of just want to play what you like and not what would cater to a crowd.”
This scaling back has allowed members to hone in on their individual ventures within Dial Up. Beyond their unique tastes in music, everyone in the group contributes their own talents and passions to Dial Up. From graphic design (Nkemere) to podcasts (Blackstone and Martinez) to writing (Jennings), each member uses their skills to lead the group into new ventures.
“Everybody having different talents just makes it always refreshing because whatever you possibly need, it’s just within a person away,” Nkemere says.
These different talents have brought Dial Up beyond the airwaves. The group has found huge success in their online magazine, with readers on campus and worldwide. The magazine has featured everything from crossword puzzles to “Dial Up Financial Consulting” to an insider’s guide to Chicago, showing off the group’s range of skills, interests and senses of humor.
Dial Up’s Summer 2015 and Fall 2015 magazines quickly spread across the internet, with fans around the world devouring the magazine’s colorful illustrations, in-depth articles and sarcastic commentary. The magazine gained praise through social media from a wide range of people, including rapper Brandun DeShay, a former member of hip-hop collective Odd Future, to members of the Los Angeles punk scene. Strangely enough, the magazine reached readers in Russia.
“It’s just not in Russian, so that’s just interesting,” Nkemere says between laughs about his mysterious fans. “I don’t know how that happened.”
In addition to working on their Winter 2016 magazine, the group has many new projects in the works. Nkemere is currently designing apparel, as well as a new sticker pack, following the group’s wildly successful Canada Juice stickers last winter. The stickers, which parodied the expensive Canada Goose winter jackets worn by many students, can be found on students’ laptops and water bottles across campus.
“We just made 200 and truthfully, we were thinking we were probably just going to throw them away, but people went nuts for it,” Nkemere says.
As Dial Up grows in popularity on campus, the group has also grown in numbers, with freshmen David Latimore, Jeff Birori and Sehmon Burnam joining the team this winter. Latimore and Birori were Streetbeat apprentices last quarter and later introduced Burnam to the rest of the Dial Up group, all becoming close friends with the original members.
“All of the guys that are in Dial Up now are very accommodating and very accessible, so they just made the transition period very easy for us,” Latimore says. “They were kind of a creative outlet for us.”
With three new members and a solid fan base on campus, members hope that this is just the beginning of Dial Up’s success.
“I definitely do see this taking off and actually being something of substance that's not just recognized by the Northwestern student body, but potentially the Chicagoland area or Midwest area,” Latimore says.
Dial Up’s newest project hopes to expand the group’s influence and presence in the local music scene. Beginning in February, Dial Up has partnered with La Macchina Cafe in Evanston to host a party at the restaurant every other Friday. By bringing in local, smaller artists to perform, as well as DJing their own sets, Dial Up members hope that the parties will be a platform to introduce music lovers in the area to new music.
“I think it’s pretty cool that there’s going to be a spot a little closer to us, especially Evanston residents, people at our school, to go to expect different music,” Nkemere says.
But while Dial Up is ever-evolving, the members’ passions will always be the guiding force for the group’s future endeavors.
“We are all music lovers at the root of it,” Nkemere says.