From WRVU to WXNA—Continuing the Conversation

From WRVU to WXNA
The Scoop on WXNA-FM “Low Power, High Voltage” Radio
 

Journalist Nate Rau ran a great story on WXNA in Saturday's Tennessean. Click here if you missed it.

Continuing the Conversation: Randy Fox and Heather Lose on WRVU and WXNA

Nate Rau: What led you to pursue WXNA?

Heather Lose: I think the crushed feeling I had when our beloved WRVU (91 Rock to us really old-school Nashvillians) was taken away was one shared by many music lovers in Nashville. That station helped shape my taste as a teenager and then, much later, gave me an outlet for "The Honky Tonk Jukebox," a show I created and ran on WDBX Carbondale—a fine community station—for about six years. It also forged friendships, taught me that Greek Orthodox hymns were mindblowingly awesome early in the morning, and was a constant place of freedom, delight, and surprise for over 40 years. Those three things are hard to come by on the airwaves these days.

It really was a no-brainer to take action to try to get the station back on the air. And when it became obvious that we wouldn't be able to do that exact thing, we decided to keep going, to establish a freeform station that would stay true to that independent spirit.

Randy Fox: Even though I was very happy and appreciative of my time on WRVU, the fact that it was a university-owned and student-run station meant that it was never a fully focused community station. Over the years WRVU had several good student management teams that were able to balance a vision of the station as being both for students and for the community, but in a crunch, student issues would take precedence, and rightly so. What I always wanted to see was a fully independent station that would function as a part of Nashville’s vast and diverse music and cultural scene.

Sometime in the late-1990s, I discovered WFMU-FM— one of the country’s premier independent, freeform stations—which, interestingly enough, began as a college station but continued to survive after the college it was a part of closed its doors. It was the type of station I wanted to see in Nashville, and I fully believed we had a market that would support such a station. The death of WRVU as a broadcast station was sad, but it also presented a huge opportunity to create a new vision of Nashville radio.

Radio Free Nashville was on the air by that point, but their signal was still limited to western Davidson County, so it made sense for us to pursue our own course. WRFN has now expanded their coverage through a translator signal, and we think that’s great. The fact that Nashville will soon have two independent freeform stations on the air is fantastic.

Nate: Who was part of the effort?

Randy: Heather can speak better on how the ball first got rolling, but we eventually settled into a core group of all former WRVU DJs. Only a few of the group were Vandy alumni— most of us came to WRVU as community volunteer DJs. We (and the shows we had on WRVU) are: Roger Blanton (Delicious Elixir), Ashley Crownover (Set Records to Stun), Randy Fox (Hipbilly Jamboree), Jonathan Grigsby (Set Records to Stun), Heather Lose (Honky Tonk Jukebox), Laura Powers (Needles + Pins), Ron “DJ Ron” Slomowicz (Out of the Closet / Dance) and Pete Wilson (Nashville Jumps).

Heather: More people than it is even possible to mention helped get us to this fine day. All the folks who donated money, time, or energy to the Save WRVU campaign. The bands that played benefits, the businesses who donated money from special events. Sharon Scott and the original board of WRVU Friends and Family did a lot of the ground work early on. They formed the 501(c)(3) and were fierce in their efforts to keep the station at Vanderbilt, as an opportunity and resource for the students there.

When it became obvious that the station as we knew it would never again find traction at Vanderbilt, the new board was elected and began carrying the torch in a new direction. One member remains from the old board—DJ Ron, who has been a crucial bridge from the old to the new. We’ve already had a lot of inquiries from other well-loved community DJs from the past. Everyone is excited. We can't wait to hear the first song go out over 101.5 FM.

Nate: What is your fundraising goal?

Heather: It's a moving target at the moment. We will have our first fundraising conclave next week and at that time can really start to project what our startup and operating costs will be. For now, let's say $100,000. That sounds like a lot, but if everyone who ever cared about WRVU simply pitched in the cost of one night out on the town, we would be well on our way.

Nate: Do you plan to pursue a stronger signal? Will there be a streaming component?

Heather: Ask us about the signal again after we've built a tower, transmitter, studio, and staff! This task is truly overwhelming when you take the bird's-eye view. The FCC gave us 18 months to be up and going. That sounds like a lot of time, until one starts to make a list. I've found that the only way to keep from freaking out over this responsibility is to baby step through this. One thing at a time. Because it is a responsibility. Many people worked hard to get us where we are today, but man. The real work hasn't even started yet!

Randy: With a 100-watt signal we should reach most of downtown Nashville and the surrounding area. We plan to strongly promote our online streaming. Our hope is that people can discover the station when they’re in the downtown area, and then listen online—whether they’re in Nashville, New York, London or Tokyo.

Heather: If anyone reading this article has a cool space they'd like to donate or rent affordably for our studio, we are all ears! You can contact us at wxnafm.org.

Nate: What can you disclose about programming?

Heather: We want to be a forum for experimentation, freedom, and excellence. I've worked in radio in one capacity or another for years, and truly believe that radio serves its highest purpose when it exists to serve the people within a community. We want to provide a wide range of shows because there's a great swath of music in the world that is not included on the dial these days. We want to give a voice to folks in our area who don't have one right now. We have already partnered with Open Table Nashville to help them with their mission of making life better for people who are homeless. And, we are looking forward to providing a rich blend of topical shows devoted to local viewpoints, underserved populations, and interests.

Randy: It’s safe to say that music will be a primary focus. We’re dedicated to a freeform format that gives each DJ absolute freedom in choosing what they want to play (within FCC guidelines of course). That means there will be lots of specialty or theme shows but we’re also hoping for some interesting and entertaining eclectic shows that will encompass all types of music, guided by the DJ’s personality.

You could say we’ll be a different format every two or three hours depending on how long a show is. But even if one listener doesn’t enjoy every show they hear, the hope is that they’ll be back two hours later to see what’s next. It’s the exact opposite of what commercial radio has become, where it’s all about homogeny and blandness so a listener won’t bother to change the station. I would love to see a day when listeners will have WXNA and WRFN as pre-sets and spend the day flipping between the two for different shows.

Nate: Why is WXNA good for the community?

Randy: Nashville has such a rich music heritage. Live music and recording have continued to grow and have played a huge part in making Nashville the city it is today. But radio has actually declined in terms of cultural influence. WSM with the Grand Ole Opry and WLAC with its nightly rhythm & blues broadcasts during the 1940s through the 1970s played a huge part in influencing American culture and music. But today, most of the radio in Nashville sounds exactly like radio stations in the rest of the country thanks to corporate ownership and centralized programming. There are some exceptions, but the “anything goes” days of radio broadcasting that led to the explosion of country and R&B in the 1950s and the creation of rock’n’roll are long gone. Our hope is that WXNA will bring back some of that personality and make radio a place to discover music rather than just hear the same songs repeated endlessly. We want Nashville’s airwaves to be as vital and exciting as Nashville’s music scene.