As the clock ticks to 7:30 a.m., the soft rhythms of a song emerge from my phone. After the initial beat settles in, the slightly cheesy lyrics of “San Francisco Street” by Sun Rai begins. “I had this crazy dream / Of waking up / In your house / On a San Francisco street…”
Three minutes in, the song ends, and two hosts with the radio names Sequoia and The Early Bird take over the mics, wishing listeners of Roll Over Easy, a Thursday morning online radio show on BFF.fm, a good morning.
San Francisco is no stranger to quality radio — beyond KQED and KALW, there are innumerable programs to listen to while pouring a cup of coffee and starting your day. But on Thursday mornings from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m., thousands of San Franciscans turn off the FM radio and click ‘play’ on an online podcast. The chill music, morning weather report, and banter between its two host help soften the harshness of day four of the work week.
Roll Over Easy is the lovechild of Chris Bunting (host name Sequoia) and Luke Spray (The Early Bird). The program plays on BFF.fm — “Best Frequencies Forever” — and operates out of an undisclosed location in the Mission District.
Luke Spray outside the Roll Over Easy studio. (Photo by Jessica Christian)
Like many brilliant projects, this one started in a bar. Spray was bartending at Thieves Tavern in 2013 when he introduced Cosmic Amanda, the creator of BFF.fm, to his friend Bunting, who studied radio in college. The two got to talking, and a few months in, Bunting and Spray pitched the idea of an early-morning radio show.
“I grew up listening to AM talk radio every night on KGO.” Bunting says. “I’ve been steeped in what a radio show sounds like for a very long time. The great thing about community radio operating out of a secret alley in the Mission District is that there are only varying levels of correctness.”
The format of Roll Over Easy is unusual, but it flows smoothly. Each episode starts with the aforementioned Sun Rai song. When Bunting and Spray take the mic, they start off slow — a welcome relief if you’re just waking up. The duo read the weather report for the day, pour their coffee, and audibly take a first sip into the mic. Then there’s another song to coax you out of bed, before the pair return to chat about the latest news. The show’s second half often features a guest speaker.
Four years in, Roll Over Easy is going strong, and its vision of positivity in the face of a struggling city may be at the root of its popularity.
“We put a very strong bias for optimism on the show, from the very beginning,” Bunting tells SF Weekly. “We highlight what’s great about the city and these communities, and how to lift people up, instead of complaining about what’s negative.”
Key to that philosophy is the guideline that no one — hosts or guests — is allowed to bring up gentrification.
“We’ll leave that to the real reporters,” Spray explains. “But if you want to come on the show and talk about a great walk you took in the city, or how you met your neighbor, those are the kinds of stories we want to showcase.”
But Roll Over Easy’s hosts don’t just project their work into the vacuum of space. There are people listening, and lots of them. Part of this cult-like following is thanks to Bunting and Spray’s dedication to engaging with their listeners.
“All we have is audio,” Bunting says. “We’re always trying to stretch that. It’s not a medium where people can see us, or even verbally talk back to us. How do we build community when it’s a one-way communication device? It’s a challenge.”
The answer? Social media. “Twitter just seemed like the natural medium, because it’s so quick,” Spray says. “The show’s online, Twitter is online. If you’re listening on your computer you can type in. It’s also a very level playing field. If you tweet in, we’re going to interact with you. We always say that the show is one part us, one part you, and a dash of coffee.”
This method caught on quickly. “It was almost addicting to tweet in and have them read it on the air, and then be connected to these other listeners, who would interact with you,” says regular listener and contributor @daniscoville. “I have made friends in real life through this show, and it’s given me a greater sense of belonging in this city, and for that, I’m so grateful.”
However, being successful at inviting the city at large into the show does require flexibility. “There have been several episodes where we’ve been on one path, but Twitter has gone down another, and we just follow the rabbit hole of what people are talking about,” Spray says.
Over time, many of these online friendships have evolved to become ones held in real life, and a number of the show’s Twitter followers have been invited onto the show. @daniscoville runs a “Song & Spot” segment on Roll Over Easy, where she pairs a San Francisco location with a song — which are “magical when combined.” And Twitter user @suldrew regularly appears for the segment “Two and a Quarter,” about how listeners can explore S.F. via Muni (which costs $2.25, hence the name).
“So much of our dialogue online and in the media these days is pessimistic — whether about national politics, housing, traffic and transit, or other issues of the day — and yet we live in or around this magical city,” @suldrew explains. “It’s much more fun to listen to a show about this at least once a week. Even when I’m out of town and in a different time zone, I try to catch Sequoia and The Early Bird live, or at least on the podcast.”
This need to catch every show is a common thread for many of its fans. “Every week, Sequoia and The Early Bird remind me of how lucky I am to live in the best city on earth,” says Twitter user @TheRealWBTC. “The way they encourage listeners to explore all the nooks and crannies of S.F., host interesting local guests, and bring people together, provides such a meaningful public service, and they make this city a better place.”
Roll Over Easy has what many radio shows can only dream of: die-hard fans. But there are still things the hosts would like to achieve, such as increasing their audience.
“We’re not quite to half of San Francisco yet,” Bunting says.
“That’s our goal,” Spray adds.
Other wishes are more whimsical.
“We’d love a child to be birthed by two people who met via the show, who didn’t know each other beforehand,” Bunting says as Spray laughs.
And on a more serious note, the pair are brainstorming ways to make Roll Over Easy a more collective effort. “Our show is moving towards a space where we showcase a bunch of little stories by other people,” Bunting says. “If you have something you want to say, hop on your phone and record yourself for a couple minutes and send it to us each week. We’d love to play it on the air.”
And since a guest is featured each week, Spray and Bunting also have a wishlist for that category. “We’ve tried really hard to get Bruce Bochy, the general manager of the Giants,” Bunting says — but the reason why isn’t what you’d expect. “He wrote a book about his favorite walks. Our two requirements for the show are that you have to be an expert in your craft, and that you love San Francisco. Bochy totally qualifies.”
Roll Over Easy airs every Thursday from 7:30-9:30 a.m. on BFF.fm. Tune in online at bff.fm/shows/roll-over-easy.