On June 6, 2011, the awesome free-form radio station that inspired me to become a DJ flipped to WFCL Classical 91 One, becoming an extension of Nashville’s NPR affiliate and cutting off the city’s only real broadcast outlet for the huge amounts of music and culture happening just below the surface of Music City USA. Though the station will continue to broadcast on HD3 and online, things will obviously never be the same for the station staff and for the listeners of WRVU. The frustrating and mind-boggling situation will be interesting to follow in the coming months, since the campaign to save the station has continued to push forward to keep WRVU broadcasting on 91.1, and if these appeals are unsuccessful, the station will venture bravely into the digital world come fall. In any case, the situation provides a good template for reflection on the state of independent radio and its continued relevance in a changing world.
A former classical director, Sara Shukla, sent me a link to a great piece in the NYT earlier this evening (click!) that kind of prompted some renewed thinking on the topic. It’s true that people don’t listen to the radio as much these days, but you could also say that it’s true that people don’t listen to music in the same way any more either. The much-heralded “death of the music industry” has failed to really impact the success of most radio stations, especially many free-form stations like WRVU and WPRB, because these stations provide things you just can’t find on the internet or on satellite radio or what have you. On stations like WRVU and WPRB, you have engaging and thoughtful DJs who know a heck of a lot about music putting together sets of music for your listening enjoyment and often commenting on them in enlightening ways. Whether you agree with a certain DJ or not, it’s hard as a music listener to not see the value in this. Independent radio also has an endearing unpolished nature to it, making otherwise obscure music accessible and relatable and interesting to those who might not have found it interesting in the first place. The benefits for station staff are also immeasurable. Speaking as a student, I believe I’ve learned more through working at WPRB than in any combination of classes I’ve taken in school, and I think that anyone who has ever worked in college radio would agree to at least some degree.
Lest you worry, WPRB is not in any danger of being sold. In fact, WPRB is and will continue to be a thriving, musically and newsically and sportsically diverse organization for years to come. Thanks to our community-supported model, we exist due to the generosity of our listeners and so are not beholden to any organization that might seek to squash us without our input. Like all independent stations, however, WPRB is doing its best to remain relevant in the digital age, and we’re making plans to expand online offerings in the future (which could include more online accessibility to broadcast material and special online-only content). We love to hear support and suggestions from our listeners, so if you’ve got any cool ideas, comment on this post and we’ll take them under consideration. Whether it’s organizing and executing a supercharged membership drive to maintaining balance in the schedule between familiar shows and new voices to fixing the website when it’s broken, there’s always issues to hammer out at WPRB, but thanks to our listeners, I think we’re producing better radio than ever.
I personally hope WRVU is able to find the silver lining really soon. In a year that has seen the sale of WRVU, KUSF, and KTRU, independent broadcasters need to ensure that they stay relevant and connected to their listener bases. As for these new online stations, I think that if WRVU’s DJs are able to continue to produce a great product while finding ways to engage listeners even from an online stream, they can remain a vital part of Nashville’s music scene and the broadcast landscape as a whole. Perhaps moving to a more community-supported format would do them good; perhaps, at this point, it’s better to make lemonade from their lemons. In any case, please remember how important our listeners and supporters and DJs and staff (who are all volunteers) are to us at WPRB, and we could literally not exist without your support. You can make sure that we keep running strong by donating now or in October during our drive, or by purchasing WPRB merch through our new online store, or by calling in during your favorite radio show to chat with the DJs, or by just tuning in every once in a while. With your support, we can remain weird and wacky and wonderful well into the future.