In 1999, Tim Sweeney enrolled at New York University and presented himself at the campus radio station, WNYU. He wanted to host his own show. He’d been dreaming of it since he was a teenager.
Every week, New Yorkers tune in to hear him spin records, chat with well-known house and techno DJs, and listen to the guests play their own sets. Thousands more across the world download the show after it airs, attracted by Sweeney’s unshakeable taste and his genuine voice.
Off the back of this, Sweeney has become an in-demand touring DJ himself. This is impressive in an age when most DJs secure their gigs by producing hit records, regardless of how much talent they have on the decks. Apart from the occasional edit, Sweeney has never released a record. He’s a DJ who relies on nothing but the strength of his own selections. That’s rare.
Broadsheet: Are you touring a lot these days?
Tim Sweeney: Yeah, almost every weekend. Mostly in Europe, but I’m going to Canada this weekend and Miami the weekend after that. I’m playing in Brazil for New Year’s, and I was just over in Asia, so it’s kind of all over the place.
BS: How do you fit Beats in Space around that?
TS: I just fly for the weekend and then fly back. The radio show’s on Tuesday nights, so it’s fairly easy to get back in time for it. When I go to Europe I usually leave on a Thursday night. I arrive Friday morning, play Friday night somewhere, play Saturday night somewhere else, sometimes Sunday and then fly back on Sunday or Monday.
BS: Have you ever missed a show over the past 16 years?
TS: Technically, yes. There was a trip to Australia where I stayed for two weekends, so I pre-recorded the radio show for that. For this trip, I fly out on a Wednesday and fly back on the Tuesday. I won’t have to miss anything.
BS: Wow, that’s harsh. It’s such a long way.
TS: It is hard, but there’s a part of me that feels really weird when I miss the show. It’s just part of my schedule. It’s one of those things I’ve grown accustomed to doing.
BS: Time and time again people talk about how you’ve never lost your passion for the show or become jaded. Why do you think that is?
TS: Every Tuesday I do look forward to it. I don’t get paid for doing the radio show, so if I was bored with it, I would stop doing it. If it wasn’t fun, I would stop doing it. I like that I can do whatever I want with it.
I have all kinds of different guests, and I think that’s what keeps it interesting for me. It’s not the same thing week in, week out. Some weeks I may have a live band in. Some weeks it’s going to be super heady [intellectual] stuff, another week it’s going to be super clubby. One week it could be someone really underground, who no one knows about. Another week it’s someone really popular like Carl Craig or Jamie xx. I like that; that you never know what to expect. It keeps the listener on edge; they never know what they’re going to be tuning in to.
BS: When you started 16 years ago, the internet wasn’t such a big force. But these days there are hundreds of regular DJ podcasts available online, and publications such as Resident Advisor, FACT and XLR8 all have their own as well. How has Beats in Space stayed relevant in all this?
TS: I don’t know. Maybe it’s that variety, but I think there’s also something with this show; it’s live radio, there’s mistakes, we have the interviews. There’s something slightly more personal with this show than with a lot of other things, which maybe draws some people in and keeps them tuned in. It’s still a college radio show. It isn’t super polished. I don’t want people sending in mixes that are already pre-recorded and perfect. I find that a little boring. I like that we do this live thing on Tuesday nights and just go from there and see what happens. Sometimes it fails miserably. Sometimes it’s something really special. I think that’s what it’s about.
BS: Do you have any idea how many people download the show?
TS: No, not really. I’m not good at tracking anything. The radio show also doesn’t subscribe to Arbitron [a ratings aggregator], so I have no idea how many live listeners there are. It’s up in the air, but I kind of like it that way. It’s a surprise – you get calls in from people you wouldn’t expect. There was one time during the show that DJ Harvey and Thomas Bullock were driving from upstate New York back to the city and they had just tuned in. They called up to say they were listening, so you never know, which is the fun thing about radio.
Tim Sweeney plays the Bacardi x Boiler Room stage at Sugar Mountain festival on January 23, 2016.
Broadsheet is a media partner of Sugar Mountain Festival.