Erik Shaltis is Detroit’s Internet radio maverick

Play what you want

Dec 2, 2015 at 1:00 am
Tony Schwartz (in foreground) and Joe Sikora during their show Freedom Worx.
Tony Schwartz (in foreground) and Joe Sikora during their show Freedom Worx.

At the back of a tiny concrete block building, the door to the Cave Radio Broadcasting station is cracked open. Past the broadcasting table and live band setup, a small room is cordoned off by fresh drywall and insulation.

Radio host Erik Shaltis, DJ Dan Mayer, and station engineer Rich Bloom are testing their mics for buzzing in the new "Cave Radio Sports" section. They find out that there is a strong buzz when they point toward piped electrical wires running perpendicular to the floor. The three men scratch their heads. Shaltis ducks out from under the door. And since he is well over 6 feet tall, ducking is not just an expression.

After graduating from Specs Howard in 2007, Shaltis originally worked for WTKA in Ann Arbor and Clear Channel Toledo. After getting laid off in Toledo, Shaltis came into the Internet radio scene shortly after by hosting a paranormal radio show, "The Sceptic and the Ghostie."

Despite offering up such tantalizing fare as interviews with an Amityville Horror survivor, the show fell apart after three years, and Shaltis started "Just Roll With It" on Detroit's Raw Radio X "to have some fun and to use his talents to expose others' talents," according to Cave Radio's site.

But Shaltis found that the politics of broadcasting from a station that wasn't theirs just wasn't cutting it. "Me and Dan were doing our show on Raw Radio X and weren't happy with the way things were going there," Shaltis says. "We knew Rich owned a server that had space on it and we started talking about it."

The talk turned into action shortly after. It was a DIY team effort. "Rich would watch YouTube videos about a hundred thousand different things like creating a website and streaming," Mayer says. "We did one last show June 25 at Raw Radio X and the next week we started Cave Radio in Dan's basement with one show, 'Just Roll With It.' It just blossomed from there. Now, we have 30 shows and a second network with 12 shows. It exploded from something we started in the basement."

In its growing pains, the show moved from Mayer's basement to Bloom's garage to Shaltis' basement and then back to Bloom's garage, until finally settling into a storefront on Five Mile and Telegraph Roads in downtown Redford. Meanwhile, their audience boomed.

According to a 2014 study by Edison Research, 41 percent of the online population from ages 18 to 34 listens to live streaming Internet radio. With the advent of more Internet stations, they project this figure will continue to rise. This trend is encapsulated in Cave Radio's catchphrase: "FCC radio is dead. Say what you want. Play what you want."

Bloom bets on Internet radio becoming more available as technology evolves. "There are Internet radio stereo rack receivers out there now. Cars are having it too," Bloom says.

"When you play Internet radio you aren't limited by how far frequency reaches. It is worldwide. There can be someone in Venezuela listening in to our music and get ahold of a club to play local Detroit music in Venezuela."

Another cause of the FCC stations' looming death, Shaltis says, is that FCC stations no longer cater to local musicians and local audiences. "Ninety percent of the bands in Detroit should be playing on every radio station in the country because of how good the scene is," Shaltis says. "But with the FCC and payola, the big radio stations get paid to play the same song over and over again. You won't hear the same song for a week on Cave Radio. We have thousands of local songs on our library on a loop that keeps playing. The amount of talent in Detroit is amazing."

This budding industry, however, doesn't take Shaltis away from his day job as a plumber.

"It is really, really hard because we all have our roles in building the station and our nine to five," Shaltis says. "I'd come back from work at five and get ready for the show at six. In juggling all that and my two kids, some things suffered, but if we didn't do what we did we wouldn't have what we got. It's reached far beyond a hobby. I'm working my job and leaving the station at 1 a.m. It's rough, but you have to pay the bills."

On top of his job and radio hosting, Shaltis manages the station's charity organization, Cave Radio 365, which raises money to fight autism and cancer. The station's involvement with these charities come from personal roots. Mayer has two autistic sons, while Shaltis' mother passed away from cancer.

"I wish someone would've helped," Shaltis says. "Funerals are expensive, and around that time, if someone were to give me $1,000 to bury my mom it would have been a blessing. A lot of families don't have that option. If we can bring that to a family, we are going to do it." So far, they have raised $10,000 for charity. And raised another $4,500 for the family of a friend that passed away from brain cancer.

Despite his demanding roles as radio personality, charity organizer, and plumber, Shaltis is eager to continue to evolve the station. "Our social media is where it is happening now. I post 15 videos a week on Facebook," Shaltis says. "One of the next things we are going to try is broadcasting live video. It will be something for the listeners to actually see the bands live. Some of the interactions off the mic are the best. Some of the stuff that happens around the table is priceless."

"We have a lot of harebrained ideas," Bloom says. "Cave Radio was one of them. The fact that it has taken off like it did is because we are trying to stay fresh. At one point, we thought we should call this thing ADHD Radio, because we are all so quick to try something new."

"I came in a few months ago and Dan was measuring off space in the studio," Shaltis says. "I asked what he was doing and he's like, 'Cave Radio Sports, baby; it's starting.' We talked one day, and a week later, there it was. It's kind of how we do things."

Dennis Burck was a summer intern for Metro Times.

Cave Radio presents its annual holiday cancer fundraiser on Saturday, Dec. 5 at the Ancient Order of Hibernians Hall, 25300 Five Mile Rd., Redford; 313-538-1470;; $10.