Venice 99.1FM | Listen to Tony Mackenzie, If You’re Lucky Enough

Getting niche with the British low power DJ

Written by

Annie Bush

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You’re waking up within four miles or so of Venice Beach, California and it’s a fabulously sunny day. It’s the kind of weather that, had you been born thirty years prior and four states away, might hypothetically motivate you to skive off whatever office job to which you are chained in order to indulge in vice and soak up the sun. However, you’re living in the mid twenty-first century, so your job is not so much a spatiotemporal constraint as much as it is an obligation to be near a laptop constantly, and you live within and around four miles of Venice Beach, California, so the sun knows no seasonal bounds. So, unmoored in the land of endless sunshine and ubiquitous internet, suspended in that mushy nothingness of the modern age, you turn on 99.1, and you hear a British man lilt: “Boys and girls. Ladies and gentlemen. Grannies and grandpas. My name is Tony Mac– that’s Mackenzie in full, and this is Venice FM.” 

Venice 99.1, and Tony Mackenzie, the jocular Brit behind it all, unite the communities of Venice Beach, Santa Monica,and Mar Vista through an eclectic mix of genre-bending tracks every day from 6am to 9pm. The station started in late 2018 after the area was granted a Low Power operating license (that is to say, they were granted a minimal wattage license used for “noncommercial educational broadcasting only). Since then, Venice 99.1 has become a wacky mainstay for those in Venice with a distaste for the algorithmically-driven world of music curation. Tony Mac welcomes those who want to host shows, so long as there’s no expletives, and they don’t send him an hour of funk or an hour of reggae. “Don’t stick to one genre, and you’ll have a program,” he tells me on the phone. Tony Mac knows how to bounce between genres: the mix, created specifically for Flaunt, bounces between OutKast’s “Pink and Blue” to Johnny Cooper Clarke’s “Twat” monologue. “The harder I work on a show, the worse it sounds,” he tells me of the FLAUNT mix and of his show in general, which he compiles using his extensive record collection from his own home. “If I write things down, if I plan beforehand, it never sounds right. [Everything] is completely just spontaneous, [everything] is completely off of the top of my head.” 

Indeed, the off-the-cuff texture of the show is its throbbing, magnetic heart. Having grown up listening to pirate radio stations in London, Mackenzie is constantly trying to revive the communal, human dimension of old media: “I like the digital realm, don’t get me wrong,” he says, but “there’s something magical about small radio.” Though many have asked Mackenzie to digitize the show so others could access it away from Venice, having global access would defeat the point: “I tell them, if you want to hear the show so badly, come to Venice!”

Perhaps you might have to be physically in Venice to hear the real show, but if you want to hear a close approximation, you can play Grand Theft Auto Online. Mackenzie lent his voice to the in-game “Kult FM” station, after being approached by 99.1 fan and Venice resident Julian Casablancas about the project. “If you wanna hear Tony Mac when you’re driving around killing people, that’s your chance,” he chuckles. Aside from that deal, 99.1 doesn’t do a lot of self-promotion. MacKenzie cannot seem to stress enough how little capital comes through the station: “Sometimes we’ll sell t-shirts,” he says vaguely. “Sometimes I’ll post on Instagram, but I don’t want to do that too much. We should do fundraisers, but I can't be bothered.” 

If you take a peek at the 99.1FM Instagram, you’ll see what MacKenzie is talking about. Saturated with old internet memes, interspersed with posts spouting something along the lines of: “Antenna currently being repaired so bare with us, will be back up and running again VERY SOON thanks,” or “TRANSMITTER CURRENTLY BEING REPAIRED. IT CLEARLY DIDN’T DIG THIS HOT WEATHER. Back soon stay COOL,” the 99.1fm Instagram demonstrates a casual indifference towards clout, an attitude tirelessly mined and ineffectively mimicked by chronically-online artists today. Chaotic and warped and fraught with paradoxical noise, Venice FM community radio is most cool because it doesn’t cater to its listeners. In fact, Tony Mac doesn’t even know who or how many listeners the radio station has– “We’ll never know!” he quips. “Maybe it’s better that we don’t.”

For someone whose home is filled with cheap records, who operates a radio station, who makes music, who surrounds himself with musicians, Tony MacKenzie enjoys silence the most: “Sometimes I get sick from music,” he says. “Especially when I'm making a record, I try not to listen to too much music so I don't want it to rub off on me. And sometimes it does. Without even knowing it. You know what I mean?” And we do. Venice 99.1FM sets itself apart from other underground media entities because of its ability to manipulate silence, to utilize space, to acknowledge time, to physically rangle in a rapidly deteriorating arts community into a warm, raucous space. 

If you’re lucky enough to be in Venice or Santa Monica today, you might be among the coolest in Los Angeles. After all, there’s nothing cooler than old media (e.g. magazines. e.g. radio). There’s nothing cooler than gatekeeping a low power radio station. You may wake up in Gentrified Venice Beach in the twenty-first century where you have to drag yourself to the living room to email people for your cushy Work From Home Job. Your brain might soften under unwavering sunshine and due to constant screen exposure, but hey, at the very least, you are experiencing these things concurrently with the unique, discrete experience of being a fan of Venice 99.1FM with Tony Mac. 

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Venice 99.1FM, Tony Mackenzie, Annie Bush, Music