Unveiling the Spooky Soundscape: An Interview with Clay Roe, Creator of DeadAir.co

I recently posted a blog on a fantastic radio station just for Halloween called DeadAir.co. This station is perfect for all things Halloween. It can be the soundtrack to your Halloween party. You can listen to it while putting up your Halloween decorations. You can tune in while carving jack-o-lanterns. You can even play it in the car on your drive to work. Regardless of when or where you listen, this station has an incredible variety of Halloween-themed music to suit all tastes.

Recently, I was able to interview the owner and creator of this station, Clay Roe. He was so generous with his time, and I appreciate him answering my questions.

David: What was Halloween like for you as a child?

Clay: Typical 80’s suburban Halloween for me. Mostly simple homemade costumes, not a ton of investment or thought put into them. Small group of friends, conspiring to find the best neighborhoods within walking distance (of course, no parent chaperones. So we had to hoof it everywhere.) Our decisions were based mostly on decorations we had seen in the weeks leading up to Halloween, and also the candy received in year’s past. Rarely did the same houses give out full size candy bars two years in a row… but we were forever hopeful anyway.

My family wasn’t REALLY into Halloween, so I kind of had to push it myself. My mom would buy pumpkins for carving, but only if I specifically requested them. We’d give out candy, but the cheapest bulk crap possible. One year I decided to try to make the best of it. After an early trick or treat session of my own, I place a furniture box on our porch. I had painted it with various generic Halloween imagery… pumpkins, bats, etc. I had a loudspeaker from my bike that I mounted in the front, next to what I called “The Candy Hole” (in hindsight, it looked very suspicious. But I was naive back then. LOL) I spent the night inside the box, looking through a tiny peephole, speaking in a spooky voice to trick-or-treaters over the loudspeaker… telling them to stick their hand in “The Candy Hole.” It was basic, stupid, and a ton of fun. This was the beginning of my love of MAKING Halloween, as opposed to just participating in it. 

David: What is Halloween like for you now as an adult?

Clay: After having kids of my own… I went all out making Halloween. I would plan for months what I was going to do. Preparing complicated multitrack sound arrangements… soldering up relays and wires, painting display items, and working on effects. Nothing I did or had was specifically FOR Halloween, like from a Halloween store. Everything I had, I made. Budget was low… so I went heavy on effects and surprises. Eventually I had quite a setup I would put up every year… visible and audible for blocks around. The kind of stuff I WISHED I had seen as a kid. It was nothing compared to modern store-bought setups you see these days. But it was pretty impressive for the time. I had many people drive from far away just to see my setup each year. That was the biggest compliment.

Also… I didn’t set ANYTHING up before Halloween. For me, Halloween was a 5-day event. Day before – setup, with nighttime testing when the sun went down. Oct 31st… spend the day tweaking from the night before, and final details. 3 days After… clean up and storage. It was always faster and more fun to set up than it was to tear down.

These days, my kids are grown. I find most people are numb to my setup, as it was very meager and basic compared to those who can spend $1000’s on prepared stuff these days. So, I don’t compete. Halloween these days is a basic Jack-o-lantern outside, some decent candy to give out, and the rest of my waking hours working on DeadAir.co.

David: What is your favorite aspect of Halloween?

Clay: Nostalgia. I love re-experiencing stuff I remember from when I was a kid, or re-discovering something I had forgotten about. Movies, TV shows, commercials, music, decorations… anything. One of the aspects I HOPE for is that someday… someone somewhere will be nostalgic every Halloween when they think about that weird little Halloween radio station they used to listen to. 

David Is there one Halloween song you listened to as a child that still resonates with you today?

Clay: Oddly enough, it’s not a song. It’s a vinyl record. As a kid, I owned the Disneyland Record, “Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House.” It was a cheesy promo record that Disney had released to keep excitement going about their upcoming Haunted Mansion at Disneyland (that had yet to open). It bears ZERO connection to the actual Disneyland Haunted Mansion, and is filled with some of the dumbest, corniest sound effects you’ll ever hear. But I loved it. And I listened to it so much I wore that record out.

David: I know the Dr. Demento show is a massive part of my Halloween season every year. What prompted you to create DeadAir.co?

Clay: I LOVED Dr. Demento as well! Part of my Halloween routine as a child was recording Halloween songs off his show… as that was the ONLY SOURCE for them in many cases!

By the time I was an adult, I had quite a collection of Halloween music. It started with cassette recordings of Dr. Demento shows as a kid. Then came actual store-bought compilations. And when the internet hit, my collection exploded. By the time I started DeadAir.co, I already had close to a thousand songs in my collection… and no one to share them with.

I work in broadcast radio. And as a side hobby, I also used to have an online streaming radio station for all my (non-Halloween) music. Just for me and a few friends. One year I considered changing my home decorations into a “Pirate Radio Station”, being a mix between a ghost pirate ship, and a haunted pirate radio station. I’d set up a fake spooky radio studio in my garage… play all my Halloween music thru a neighborhood transmitter… It was a big idea that sadly didn’t get past the concept stage.

Instead, each October, I would switch the “format” of my streaming radio station over to full-time Halloween. I saw the listener numbers explode every year… then drop off again the moment I switched back to my normal playlist on Nov 1st. It was fun, and plenty for me for a few years. I had a few core listeners beg me to keep it going year-round. In order to do that, I’d have to actually invest a lot more time and money in it… for licensing and bandwidth. It’s one thing to run a tiny station for you and 5 of your friends. Having a fulltime worldwide stream is a different beast.

I agreed. In 2016, I started DeadAir.co … with the stated goal of running it out of my own pocket for 1 year. If I didn’t get enough donations to cover all the costs in that year, I’d go back to just doing it every October. Well, seven years later, here we are. 

David: Tell us about DeadAir.co.

Clay: I call it “The Sound of Halloween.” I stream all Halloween music, 24/7/365. Spooky tracks, novelty songs, vintage recordings, and audio clips from horror movies and pop culture. Many of these are my own creation, as one of my other hobbies is editing and creating audio. It is 100% listener supported. As it was in the beginning, as long as it brings in enough money to cover its own operating expenses, I’ll keep doing it. Now, admittedly.. not a TON of people listen to Halloween music year round (but some do!) So most of the year’s donations come in during the spooky season. But I do have several benefactors that donate every month. And so far, it’s been just barely enough to keep it running. Expenses have increased in recent years (licensing and paying artists for their work). But as long as I can keep the spooky flowing… I will.

David: What is your process of choosing songs for DeadAir.co?

Clay: I have a few fluid criteria for picking songs. It changes from year to year. As a result, I’m always tweaking the playlist and changing things to suit my current whimsy. But basically… if it makes ME feel nostalgic towards Halloween, it goes in. Next, is it spooky? in SOME way? Either in mood, or openly in subject matter. Is it entertaining? I don’t want things to be too dark. This is a fun Halloween… not an evil horror jumpscare Halloween. 

David: When does the Halloween season officially start for you?

Clay: Well, lowkey year round. I’m ALWAYS looking for new (to me) music. But the full time crunch begins in late August, building to unreasonable sleeplessness thru September and October. I often stay up all night tweaking playlists, and adding/removing music tracks, and scouring reddit and youtube for new treasures. 

David: What are your first traditions of the season?

Clay: Candles. I go out of my mind waiting for the SoCal heat to dissipate enough to start melting wax, and burning the inside of some pumpkin lids.

David: What is one of your favorite “overplayed” Halloween songs, and what do you appreciate about it?

Clay: Ooof. I’m a snob. The moment I feel something is overplayed, I immediately have cartoon rage for it. I USED to BAN songs from DeadAir.co due to my arrogance. For the first few years, Thriller, Ghostbusters, Monster Mash, and The Addams Family Theme were ALL banned, for various reasons. Eventually I loosened up, when I started taking requests (requests@deadair.co). I realized my own personal hang ups may be someone else’s favorite Halloween song. So I capitulated. 

But If I had to pick one? Monster Mash. It’s omnipresent. It’s Halloween’s Jingle Bells. It single handedly jump started the Halloween novelty music scene in the 1960’s that I feel so nostalgic about today… so I can’t stay mad forever. 

David: What’s one of your favorite underappreciated spooky tunes or artists?

Clay: Halloween Spooks by Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. When I first heard it on Dr Demento as a child… It sparked my love of Halloween music. You mean, there’s MORE than just Purple People Eater and Monster Mash?!?! I MUST LEARN MORE! So I did. I love that song. Even today. I cannot hear it enough.

David: What can listeners do to keep DeadAir.co alive?

Clay: Number one? Spread the word! Most people are content with boring and sterile Spotify playlists when Halloween rolls around. All my music is hand-picked (2000k+ cuts), playlists are carefully curated (as are all the movie and pop culture audio clips), and in my opinion… no robot AI algorithm assembled shuffle playlist can top it. But I’m just one guy. I need help getting the word out that DeadAir.co exists!

Number two… I need donations to survive. It’s always free to listen. But bandwidth, hosting, and music licensing get more expensive all the time. And the more people that listen, the more it costs me. On the website, you can see the various gifts I offer in exchange for donations. Once the year’s operating budget is reached, I’ll use the funds to update equipment, purchase more music directly, and invest in new rewards for supporters. But we’re a way away from that. Any donation helps.

Make sure you check out DeadAir.co and if you can, support the station!

~David Albaugh

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