Beard shaving, tattoos and short stories: Radio Room gets a boost from its loyal patrons

Lillia Callum-Penso
Greenville News

The first time Matty White stepped into the Radio Room, he knew he was home. The music venue-bar-restaurant had $2 PBRs and a songs list that included punk rock.

That was about 10 years ago and now, the Radio Room is not just home for White, but it houses the people that have become his family. That’s why when the neighborhood haunt was forced to close due the governor’s order March 17, White felt the pain.

So, he organized a fundraiser — he’d shave his epic, near belly button-length beard and mustache to raise money for the Radio Room.

The goal was $1,000, but White’s efforts raised over $1,500, “just for me to shave my big stupid face,” he added bemusedly.

Every dollar went to the Radio Room’s 12 employees.

“They’re all my friends,” White explained. “Hopefully that’s a cell phone bill or groceries or gas in the tank, or whatever they need it for.”

Matty White shaved  his distinctive beard and mustache to raise funds for the Radio Room.

There is a special bond among patrons and staff at the Radio Room. The Greenville dive bar, restaurant and eclectic music venue is not like anywhere else, a quality those who love it, relish.

That love has manifested itself in the form of a creative approach to helping Radio Room survive Coronavirus. Since April, patrons have raised over $8,000 through a series of creative fundraisers that have range from the quirky to the provocative.

White agreed to shave his facial hair, while another regular taking a page from “The Office” raised over $2,500 by agreeing to get one of the employee’s face tattooed on his posterior. Another patron offered to donate her tattoo artist skills, offering tattoos of the Radio Room tower for $50 — $100.

Matty White a month post-shave. White shaved his beard and mustache to raise funds for employees of the Radio Room, a place that is near and dear to his heart

Another regular raised money by writing short stories that allowed donors to be included in the story line and another took a note from a person who helped with the Australian Wildfires relief efforts, selling nude photos.

Radio Room owners have given all funds to staff.

“We always knew we had the best regulars in the town,” said Wes Gilliam, one of the Radio Room’s three owners. “But now, we can prove it.”

A flyer promoting the fundraiser organized by Matty White.

Cheers with karaoke

Cass Posey first found the Radio Room when the musician was trying to book a gig for his then band, Signs of Iris. Over time, the place has become a home and a safe place for Posey, who is gay and is making the move toward transitioning from female to male, and a place where you’re sure to have fun any night of the week (but Tuesday karaoke is extra).

“You can walk in there one night and hear country and then the next you have Americana punk and next night’s a rap show,” Posey said. “There is really no set genre we want to have at Radio Room, we just want to have really good music and really cool people come and hang out.

It is the kind of place Posey lovingly refers to as “the land of misfits,” a place he doesn’t just want to be but where in many ways, he needs to be.

Radio Room grew out of a passion for creating a kind of lovely dive bar, a place that offered interesting music of all sorts, affordable beer and comfort. What the place lacked in polish and shine it made up for in spirit, warmth and eclecticism.

A place where you can “hug and head bang,” as White put it.

Three years ago, owners Geoff Cannada and David Raghib moved to its current, larger, location at the corner of Poinsett Highway and Rutherford Road. They added a food menu, including Cannada’s famed Cincinnati chili, and more musical acts and windows, and Tuesday karaoke nights, and they doubled down on the all-are-welcome spirit.

And the community followed.

“Our goal is to not only be a kick butt music venue, but also somewhere super lowkey where you can hang out and bring your friends,” Gilliam said. “You don’t have to dress up or look nice, you can just come as you are, have a beer, hang out, everybody is going to be cool with you.”

David Raghib, Geoff Cannada, and Wes Gilliam, co-owners of the Radio Room in Greenville, at their venue Friday, May 22, 2020. The owners organized a fundraiser for their employees who they have had to furlough, raising $8,000.

When the Radio Room was forced to close in March, it was coming off its best two months ever, Gilliam said.

Owners applied for a PPP loan the first day applications became available, but they worried about their 12 — 14 employees, their family.

Gilliam along with Cannada and Raghib developed a t-shirt fundraiser — $15 for a special edition Radio Room tee. They raised $1,800 with most paying $25 per shirt.

They had no idea what patrons were doing in the meantime.

“Radio Room took care of us and made sure we had food, but it was really cool to be able to have a cushion where we don’t have to worry,” Posey said. “To go back now is especially going to be really awesome, just to see everyone again and to at least elbow bump them for the time being.”

As businesses have slowly reopened in South Carolina, The Radio Room has remained closed. The venue plans to reopen June 3 and will do so slowly and cautiously with specific measures in place. Patrons can expect to have their temperature taken at the door, to be offered a face mask and to be directed to carefully spaced “X” marks on the floor.

But while the physical space may look different, the energy and the comfort that are foundational to what Radio Room has always been, will be the exact same.

White, for one, will be there when the doors open again, ready for a PBR and a delicious Coney dog and ready to belt out Blitzkrieg Bop during Tuesday karaoke nights.

“Walking into the Radio Room is like meeting a friend you didn’t know you had,” White said with a sigh. “You’ve been looking for them, and they’re already there waiting for you.”

Lillia Callum-Penso covers food for The Greenville News. She can be reached at or at 864-478-5872, or on Facebook