So on April 1 there’s a news story at some Portuguese website who’s name in English means “toad” about some online music streaming thing called Arctic Outpost Radio AM1270 that’s “spinning the 78’s from 77° latitude” going from three followers to 40,000 in a matter of hours, all newcomers from Portugal thanks to some dude who’s last name is “Markl.”
Thanks for playing, but right now we’re kinda busy dealing with “virual” news of a serious kind. Next.
But just to humor you we’ll click on the DJ’s Instragram link and…um, wait – you were serious?!
Actually, it is “fake news” to report the station in Longyearbyen operated by somebody using the name Cal Lockwood suddenly has 40,000 Instagram followers. As of midday Monday it was about 62,000 – for a guy whose page has six photos that look like they were taken at some ragtag studio 60 years ago. The tunes being “spun” at the station during the past several years are even more archaic, with an adage that boasts about “playing great shellacs from 1902-1958. Big Band, Jazz, Vintage Country, and Blues broadcast from the top of the world.”
As for the man known as Lockwood, he’s something of both a local and international man of mystery since even in town few seem to have heard of or seen him (indeed, some suspected he might be too mysterious to be real – it turns out it’s a stage name to protect the privacy of himself and his studio). But the bandwidth anonymity is changing after Nuno Markl, a Portuguese comedian and TV/radio host, was a guest last Tuesday on a show hosted by Bruno Nogueira, another comedian and broadcaster, where Markl noticed the Svalbard station while scanning an app mapping online stations worldwide.
Markl shared his findings in an Instagram post that, pardon the phrase in these queazy times, quickly went viral in the country.
“In these times of isolation, this unexpected Portugal–North Pole bridge was a kind of fable that involved a lot of people and made solitude less lonely,” Markl wrote. “And he plays incredibly good music.”
Within about 12 hours Lockwood’s station was a sensation.
In a subsequent message to Markl, Lockwood called the response “unbelievable,” and he’s had little time to respond to his new flock of fans because “I’m so busy on air and trying to add server capacity to serve all the new listeners” after his existing server was overloaded.
“I have been running this small AM-MW station for several years in Longyearbyen,” Lockwood wrote. “It was more for myself as no one listens to AM radio anymore. I actually had no idea anyone cared about these old tunes. About a year ago a friend talked me into putting the broadcast on the internet. Yada yada, it’s gotten a bit crazy. Now the station has moved towards focusing on internet stream delivery.”
At noon on Monday – when “If I Had My Way” by The Harmonicats was playing – there were 209 active listeners in Portugal, six in Spain and the United Kingdom, and two or less in six other countries.
Lockwood’s station does have listeners in Longyearbyen – some of whom may not realize it since, because it’s broadcast using AM signals, it’s the only thing a non-digital radio may pickup locally due to Norway eliminating FM broadcasts a couple of years ago. Among the local listeners is Nuno Cruz, a fellow Portuguese who moved here seven years ago and happened to find it about a year ago during a chance radio scan on the car belonging to the company he worked for at the time.
“This guy’s a mystery to me and most of the community because he’s not on Facebook, he not anywhere,” Cruz said.
Not being able to find a hint of Lockwood in Norway’s population registry, online address/telephone directories and other resources raises obvious legitimacy questions since the idea somebody could remain so unknown in “everyone knows everyone” small town like Longyearbyen seems ludicrous. But a check by Icepeople of e-mails sent by Lockwood show a IP address that originates here and in one of the messages he explains he’s not using his real name for the station, “which in the old tradition of broadcasting is very common.”
“There are a lot of people now that want to come and meet me, and tour the station,” he wrote. “This is not why I do this. I never wanted any fame. I am a VERY private person. I have stated this on the air many times, that I only want to broadcast music for those that want to hear it, and that is my number one priority…I have had many requests to do live-streams or other interviews for almost a week now, but have not done any.”
Not knowing who Lockwood is doesn’t keep people like Cruz from appreciating the station or being wowed by the sudden response from his homeland.
“Of course there’s a very little percentage of people that listen to jazz,” Cruz said, referring to listeners in Portugal, although it’s certainly a statement that applies globally. “But the thing is so you hear so much noise and you hear so much about the virus that if you hear something like fresh news or sound it’s more than just a niche.”
Cruz said he’s been in touch with Markl, hoping they can find Lockwood and perhaps set up a live broadcast on the comedian’s program, and he’s been in touch with friends and family at home who say everyone there is now talking about the formerly obscure Arctic station.
“There’s some comment on (Markl’s) Instagram page that this is the best thing the virus has given to us,” Cruz said.