EF Radio Broadcasts the magic of Electric Forest year-round

Music festivals help keep radio alive in unusual ways

By Eric Bartos
The portal to Sherwood Forest. Eric Bartos/WPR

It’s nearly impossible to capture the essence of Electric Forest in words or photos. The only real way to experience it is to immerse yourself in the four-day music festival held at the Double JJ Resort in Rothbury, Michigan.

Electric Forest combines electronic music, jam bands, art installations and camping. At the heart of the festival is the Sherwood Forest. By day the forest is a space to relax, and get out of the sun. By night the forest comes alive with interactive art installations, performing artists, and secret performances hidden in the trees.

However, for those who can’t make it to the festival, or those who are looking to relive their favorite moments, Electric Forest Radio is there to bring some of the magic of the forest to listeners year-round. EF Radio was started in 2015 by Kent Otto.

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“I just started having the idea when I was on site and seeing how many people were in the campgrounds next to their cars with access to radios and all that kind of stuff, I thought what if we had like a very throwback community radio style radio station on site,” Otto explained.

EF Radio started small, only broadcasting on FM radio for the duration of the festival. Since then, it has evolved into a year round online stream, in addition to the temporary FM station on site.

To help create content for EF Radio and share the Electric Forest experience from a different perspective, a new Plug In program — EF Radio On Air ExtraordinAIRE — was created in 2023.

In a conversation  with the Electric Forest Plug In Team, Otto said, “it was often tough to find staff so the idea was to do kind of an internship program with EF Radio … we’ll just put a very open-ended application out and see who responds.”

Festival attendees discover the magic one fairy house at a time. Eric Bartos/WPR

In the first year of the program, there were more responses than Otto and team even expected.

“It was tough narrowing it down, I went in with really no expectations, and I didn’t know how it would turn out. And it turned out really really well,” Otto said.

This year, six new ExtrodinAIREs were added to the program.

It’s no secret that radio isn’t what it used to be. With more streaming services available and auto manufacturers removing AM radio from new cars, the golden age of radio seems to be a thing of the past. Otto’s team, however, is having a renaissance.

“This year some of them (ExtraordinAIREs) said, ‘I’ve never imagined this was something I wanted to do’ … but it is difficult finding folks who have radio on their radar as something to do”

Radio and radar ended up playing a prominent part in unscheduled programming during this year’s festival. Attendees had to evacuate the venue and return to their campsite’s multiple times over the final two days of the festival due to thunderstorms.

EF Radio provided updates during the severe weather, but was also there to supply the entertainment. The evacuations canceled several hours worth of performances including the headliners on the final night.

Festival goers took the chance to make some noise themselves by calling in to EF Radio and leaving voicemails that were played on air.

“Oftentimes, you know, I wonder how many people even realize that they can tune in, but last night was a great example. We knew people were listening because they were calling in and leaving voicemails … they were literally flooding in, as the site was flooding,” Otto said.

The day prior to the festival Otto got together with all of the ExtraordinAIREs, supplied them with their tools for the weekend, taught the basics of being on-air, and left them with some knowledge for their journey into the forest.

“There’s so many special things happening here, and we’re trying to do our best to amplify that to the rest of the world,” Otto said.

The iconic white pines in Sherwood Forest. Eric Bartos/WPR

From severe weather to the first trees planted, Electric Forest has a history and Otto wants to record it.

“But it’s also been cool to be a pseudo historian of this festival of sorts and as I’ve watched people on the production side of the show kind of come and go, ‘I’ve been so glad that I captured conversations with them.’ … One of the most probably valuable pieces I’ve done was with Wally Wojack, who was part of the Double JJ (Resort) from the very early days and was actually part of the crew that planted the actual trees in the forest.”

You can listen to that interview here, and if you’d like to listen to EF Radio you can find more interviews and a 24/7 live stream, on their website efradio.com.

Editor’s note: Seama Rezai contributed to the reporting in this article.

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