Sweet and Lo-Fi

Bill Streeter's vlog is how others see us


Bill Streeter's brick bungalow near Tower Grove Park used to belong to a marble floor manufacturer, confirmed by the fact that his basement floors are made of marble. This is where Streeter has constructed Lo-Fi's "studio," which primarily takes the form of a set of twin interactive monitors, a hard drive and a small video camera perched atop the computer screen that his gray ten-year-old cat, Nick, likes to nap on.

Only six vloggers have signed on to a 7 p.m. videoconference that Streeter participates in weekly, so he wanders to the basement fridge for a bottle of Grolsch before things get cooking online. By the time he returns to his chair, a gay activist vlogger from New York City, visible in a real-time window on one of Streeter's monitors, is offering his thoughts on how Enron raped Californians during the state's infamous summer of rolling blackouts.

"You can actually meet these people and have serious conversations with them — even Amanda Congdon," says Streeter, invoking the vlog anchor of the popular nightly-news parody rocketboom.com. "It's not like normal TV."

Streeter wants to weigh in on the California energy debate, so he clicks the "join queue" button on his screen, the vlogospheric equivalent of raising your hand in class. Once it's his turn, he stares into a mounted camera with a protruding microphone and talks about how everyone should run out and see (or download through dubious means) the critically acclaimed documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.

"It was brilliant, just brilliant," he raves. "They talked about how [Enron] fucked California really hard."

A San Francisco vlogger named Schlomo Rabinowitz backs the sodomy allegation: "We took it. We took it like men."

Then Adam Quirk from Hoboken lightens the mood by playing a video clip of Squeeze singing their sugary '80s hit "Black Coffee in Bed."

"Little fiery Hoboken's gonna kick Streeter's ass," jokes Rabinowitz, who's obviously familiar with Streeter's vlog.

"You could be like the godfather of lo-fi vlogs," Quirk puts in. "It could be a big national network."

"Yeah, but nobody does lo-fi like we do in St. Louis," Streeter counters. "We're just a lo-fi town."

Now 38, Streeter married Mitzi, his wife of fifteen years, shortly after serving a four-year stint at Whiteman Air Force Base in Warrensburg, Missouri. The couple has one child, a nine-year-old son named Ainslie. Mitzi works nearby at the Missouri Botanical Garden, while Bill's day job takes him downtown, where he digitally lays out print ads for the AT&T (formerly SBC) yellow pages.

While stationed at Whiteman in the late 1980s, Streeter forged what would turn out to be a very serendipitous friendship with Jeff Kopp, who at the time was a student at Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg. Years later, when Streeter's search for a better standard of living brought him to St. Louis, it was Kopper — now 40 but sufficiently boyish-looking to get away with flashing his old student ID for discounts — who hooked him up with a sweetheart deal on the house next door to his on Humphrey Street.

The two shared an interest in hard rock and underground culture and collaborated on a short-lived zine called Head in a Milk Bottle, followed by garagepunk.com, a Web site for area punk bands where Streeter nurtured his interest in emerging technology as the site's message-board administrator.

"The Internet did not begin as a very social medium," he recalls. "The first Web sites were porn sites driven by geeks. But the message boards were intellectually stimulating for me."

Infatuated with the increased ease with which anybody could produce pirate radio-style broadcasts online, Streeter set up an audio channel on garagepunk.com where visitors could subscribe to frequently updated podcasts of hard-rocking bands from St. Louis and beyond. The innovations helped the site's community grow to 2,800 members strong.

Pretty good for a guy who never finished college: In order to attend film school at Chicago's artsy Columbia College, Streeter had to supplement his G.I. Bill stipend with additional funding from a Pell Grant. But then the rules changed. If he wanted the G.I. Bill bucks, he couldn't accept Pell Grant money. Without both tuition streams, he was forced to drop out.

In between the shit jobs, he'd find the occasional gig on a local film production.

"I hated the film business," he says. "It's all hand-to-mouth. You could be making a shitload of money for six weeks, then be out of a paycheck. It's not a very stable lifestyle."

Still, as he plied the carriage reins, the plastic dog-doo mittens, the van pallets and the potato ladle — and now the Mr. Happy Crack ads in the yellow pages — Streeter's interest in making motion pictures didn't quite fade to black. He just didn't feel like playing by the old rules.

And eventually, with the enhanced affordability of quality Internet production tools, he realized he no longer had to.

"Anybody who can scrape together a couple thousand bucks can have some pretty excellent equipment," says Robin Sloan, a San Francisco-based producer for Al Gore's fledgling Current TV, a subscriber-based cable network that is seen as a sort of bridge between the vlogosphere and Big Media.

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