The basement of a shopping mall is the last place you’d expect to find the stirrings of a revolution, but that’s exactly what is happening in a tiny studio on the bottom floor of Langham Place. For the past year, Radio Dada has been dishing up indie music and irreverent discussion about Hong Kong arts and culture. Not only is this volunteer-run operation Hong Kong’s only independent radio station, its internet-based approach finally breaks free of the shackles that bind Hong Kong’s airwaves.
“Radio Dada is an experiment on how to build a radio station in Hong Kong,” says rapper and graffiti writer MC Yan, who is also the station’s musical director. “People are surprised that we do it without any money. But it’s not about money. It’s about freedom. Hong Kong is full of self-censorship, it’s way worse than in China. People here have no guts and no balls. We’re here to fix that.”
Despite Hong Kong’s reputation as a bastion of free expression, it’s actually illegal to run an independent radio station here. Only three radio stations — two of them commercial, one run by the government — are allowed to broadcast over the air. Nobody else has succeeded in getting a broadcast licence. In 2005, when a band of pro-democracy activists started a pirate station, Citizens’ Radio, that broadcast weekly political commentary, their offices were raided by police.
Dada chose to eschew the airwaves completely, broadcasting instead over the internet, which is not regulated by the government. So far, with only limited press and word-of-mouth publicity, more than 800,000 people have tuned in to the station to hear about underground music, books, art and niche topics like war games and UFOs. One of the standout shows is Undergrond Battlefield, a weekly look at indie music that usually features a live performance from local indie bands like El Destroyo and A Roller Control.
Radio Dada’s studio space comes courtesy of the Da Dolce chain of gelato shops — the station forms part of a bookstore-café-gelateria called Slowly by Da Dolce — but it relies mainly on the unpaid efforts of its 20 hosts and skeleton staff, which consists of MC Yan and advertising industry bigwigs Andy Tam and Tommy Li, who founded the station as a way to escape the creative limitations of their dayjobs. After all, says MC Yan, “If you want to do something with quality, it’d better be independent.”