DJ Ash, aka Ashraf El Gamal, was the first DJ on air at the new BFF.FM kiosk at the Ferry Building on Friday, Oct. 9, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

BFF.fm moves in to new pop-up studio at Ferry Building

Collaboration is the first of its kind for the radio station and landmark building

Online community radio station BFF.fm began broadcasting from a new satellite studio in the Ferry Building Friday with considerable local support.

The Mission District-based station, with an acronym that stands for Best Frequencies Forever, stopped using its broadcasting studios in March due to COVID-19.

BFF.fm’s collective of 112 DJs remained spirited, maintaining the 98 shows on the roster from home as necessary.

“In 2020, people were really understanding about this sort of thing. When we started broadcasting from home, we thought people would be turned off by it or think it’s lower quality,” station manager Amanda Guest said. “It’s heartwarming when people told us we’re all doing our best that we can, and they’re just happy to hear from us.”

The new BFF.FM kiosk at the Ferry Building on Friday, Oct. 9, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

But after owner Guest struck up a friendship with Ferry Building employees, they worked out a chance for DJs to operate at a social distance and continue bringing music to San Franciscans.

As a result, station will now broadcast from a sheltered outdoor booth next to Fort Point Beer Company with a large front window, enabling returning listeners or curious people to listen in or exchange greetings safely.

The temporary pop-up space is a mutually beneficial arrangement, since the Ferry Building had been looking for a way to incorporate music into customers’ outdoor dining experience while maintaining public health protocols, according to Guest.

“The best way to bring back music to the area is through DJs, because they can wear a mask and position the stage eight feet away where people were dining and pump music out in the dining room,” Guest said. “That’s how our relationship started. We created a vibe, and that led to us talking about how we can collaborate and keep the good vibes going.”

DJ Ash, aka Ashraf El Gamal, readies to go on the air under the watch of station general manager Amanda Guest at the new BFF.FM kiosk at the Ferry Building on Friday, Oct. 9, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

To finance the move, Guest sent out fundraising emails to past donors of BFF.fm and ran a $4,000 Kickstarter to pay for studio insurance and a new control surface for DJs.

What she expected to take weeks was completed in 48 hours.

“One person I reached out to was Burrito Justice, who happens to have almost 60,000 Twitter followers – he’s basically a Twitter-famous San Francisco person who’s built a following of people who are really interested in San Francisco,” Guest said. “He got excited about what were doing and tweeted about it. From there, it took off.”

Leanne Kelly, a local musician and supporter of BFF.fm, is a listener that’s tuned in since 2016. She is one-half of the electronic duo New Spell Music and has received consistent support from the radio station, becoming friends with DJ Duffy – the host of BFF.fm’s “Green Room.”

“I’m really excited for BFF. They’re a great group of people that’s very open to hearing new music and local artists,” Kelly said. “BFF has the thumb on the pulse of what’s happening in San Francisco. They champion local and often times independent artists, big and small.”

Kelly has performed live for BFF.fm shows as well as at events. For her, the importance of their programming for local artists cannot be overestimated.

Miles Otway DJs at the Ferry Building Wine Merchant and Wine Bar on Friday, Oct. 9, 2020. Otway, a DJ at BFF.FM, was key in bringing the radio station to the Ferry Building. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

When COVID-19 affected how DJs recorded shows, Kelly adapted as well. Instead of listening to a show during a drive to and from work, she listens while working from home.

Music shows she used to attend at least once a week have largely been replaced with frequent walks. Hence, the satellite studio’s live format is something Kelly is eager about.

“Once the sky is clearer I will be heading out there. I really trust them and the Ferry Building to have safety measures in place,” Kelly said. “We’re going to be living with this virus for a while. As the months drag on – as time marches on – we’re going to have to figure out how to make it work.”

If not for COVID-19, Kelly would have considered doing promotion for New Spell Music’s upcoming extended play Of Time (Remixed) on BFF.fm. The EP is slated for release on Oct. 30 and features all local California artists.

As an inclusive online music community, BFF.fm’s reach extends past the United States. Miles Otway, the DJ behind The UK Show, puts on the London music he grew up on and loves.

“My show, The UK Show, plays an eclectic mix of grime, hip-hop, R&B, drum and bass, dancehall and garage,” Otway said. “It’s whatever I’m craving that week – a bunch of different things.”

Otway moved from London to San Francisco after his wife received an offer from her company to live in The City.

Three years in, he’s very happy and appreciates representing UK music, sometimes being a listener’s first introduction to the scene.

“I’m not a labels guy, I’m a music guy. I don’t talk about the pandemic or politics – I try to encourage people to have a good time,” Otway said. “I’ve had a lot of people come up to me before, thanking me for providing music. It really brightened my day to hear stuff like that.”

With BFF.fm’s ongoing partnership with the Ferry Building, the radio station is on track to accomplish many tasks that were on their 2019 strategic plan– just at a more leisurely pace.

“This is the first step in doing what we’re best at. From the beginning, I wanted us to be an intersectional environment where a lot of different people can come together through music,” Guest said. “I think creating that sort of community around understanding different points of view is not only good for the community itself, but for the community at large.”

nancy.chan@sfexaminer.com

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