Radio Ga Ga on Lantau: British resident moonlights as a DJ spinning songs for expat community
Michael Egerton runs Radio Lantau, an online English radio station which hosts discussions, runs public announcements and plays diverse tracks
With electric guitars hanging from stands, a sleek Apple computer and CDs scattered across a transparent desk – Michael Egerton’s apartment in Mui Wo, Lantau is a rather typical one for an expatriate. Except that it moonlights as a radio station.
Egerton is one of the creators of Radio Lantau, an internet radio station that broadcasts music and various shows geared towards the Lantau expat community. It is one of few free online radio shows in the city that broadcasts in English and caters specifically to expats. Launched in September last year, the station has approximately 12,000 listener hours each month on its webpage and about half of its listeners are from Hong Kong, he said.
The idea for Radio Lantau first came to Egerton when he was at a local Dai Pai Dong or open air food stall with several expat friends, two years back. They were discussing the lack of radio stations in Hong Kong playing diverse music and broadcasts catering to the Lantau expat community. Most stations in the city only play chart music or the most popular current songs, which don’t appeal to him and his friends, he said.
“When we first talked about starting the station, a lot of our friends were listening to RTHK. But it was still missing what we wanted to hear,” said Egerton, who is British and moved to Hong Kong in 2004.
Radio Lantau started as a 24-7 music station, but expanded to include different shows as well as segments featuring informal discussions on community issues. Topics are diverse and can range from the cutting down of trees in the neighbourhood and customer service complaints to concerns regarding redevelopment plans on the island.
Bands featured by the station include classics like Jimi Hendrix and The Clash, as well as new acts like The Stryd and Smile Factory. In addition to featuring local musicians, the station also promotes local business owners and gives public service announcements such as events that are happening in the area.
“We wanted to hear voices of local people, local businesses and local shops. When you include that into the stream every day, you just get this sense of great familiarity,” Egerton said. “We can connect people on Lantau while they’re doing things.”
Mark Scholz, an expat from the Netherlands, volunteers as a DJ on weekends for Radio Lantau, and produces a show called ReMarkable Radio. On the segment, Scholz plays a wide variety of music including soul, funk and old school hip hop. The fact that some restaurants and cafes in Lantau broadcast the station and his listeners are people living in his neighbourhood, fosters a sense of community for Scholz, who moved to Mui Wo in 2012.
“They feel more connected – people that know me and listen to the show,” Scholz said. “You get people commenting on Facebook the next day. It brings us together a little more, even though being a radio DJ is a bit anonymous.” He added that he hoped the station would grow to the point where he would be able to broadcast live from a studio one day.
Cary Shakeshaft, a 39-year-old housewife who has lived in Mui Wo for almost four years, regularly listens to Scholz’s show because she particularly likes the type of old school hip-hop music that he plays. She first learned about Radio Lantauthrough advertisements on Facebook about six months ago, and has been a fan of Scholz’s show ever since. On Saturday and Sunday evenings, she likes to listen to the show with her husband on the couch.
“A lot of music he plays, I would say he plays for western listeners ... stuff that reminds me of back home, back in the day,” Shakeshaft said, adding that songs from American hip-hop trio A Tribe Called Quest are among her favourites regularly featured on the show.
Before discovering Radio Lantau, Shakeshaft used to tune in to radio stations from Toronto, Canada, where she is from. There are many local community radio stations back home, she added, but Radio Lantau is the only one she’s heard about in Hong Kong catering to English-speakers.
“His show is pretty much the only Hong Kong programme I listen to,” Shakeshaft said. “Old school hip hop on Hong Kong radio is really not happening.”
She added that it would be great if one day the show could be produced live and listeners could call in and request songs.
At present, the station runs on advertising revenue and donations. In addition to managing the station, Egerton also works in marketing and owns a record label in the UK, as well as an aviation training company in Hong Kong. His experience with his record label gave him the tools to set up Radio Lantau, he said.
“It’s difficult to do it in a cost-effective way. It’s particularly difficult to obtain licences, to go through the legal framework that you need to operate the station,” Egerton said, adding that the station has a UK licence. “Through the label, we were already quite familiar with this process.”
His team hopes to expand their operation as they move forward, for instance, by potentially including a call-in option to allow listeners to comment during broadcasts.
“It’s very difficult to sustain something like this unless you’re incredibly motivated,” Egerton said. “This is something that we do because we really love doing it.”