Radio Is Dead. Long Live Radio.

Reclaiming the Waves of Nashville:
An Interview with Heather Lose of WXNA

By Benjamin Harper

(Originally posted on Hot Sauce and Coffee,
an online pub covering Nashville's DIY artist community)

 

As a budding young person growing up in Sumner County, music was a precious commodity.  The hunger for new sounds was imperative to my struggling identity.  Amongst my circle of friends, music was a force that gave us a home of sorts. I felt an innate compulsion to discover and HEAR all of the acts that I knew I needed to, artists for whom I could only read about in music publications.  Outside of cable television shows such as ‘120 Minutes’ on MTV, such a notion was very difficult to come by as an early teenager.

One night while riding in my father’s truck, he was scanning the radio dial and stopped for just a few moments on 91.1 FM, the official station of Vanderbilt University.  A loud, industrial ruckus blasted through at us.  I immediately perked up and wondered what it was exactly that we were hearing.  Of course my dad did not know, but he did know about 91.1.  Shortly after I began to listen to this station after returning from school.  I had a blank cassette at the ready.  The goal was to capture the aforementioned music I’d only read about.  Thus began my listening habits with WRVU.  Those were simpler times.  Patience and a willingness to call in a request were rewarded with a key to discovering an amazing array of artists.

Fast forward to 2011. In the interim years I’d always kept an ear to 91.1, still discovering new artists for whom I would dutifully go buy from Grimey’s or a number of digital music distributors.  Nothing new, nothing special.  Yet the option of terrestrial radio was always a good standby.  It was great for the long commutes to and from work.  It was really great to listen to while at work.  Suddenly, it was relayed to the public that WRVU was up for sale! All of the hardworking and faithful DJ’s had nary a notice about this sale.  Later that year, the 91.1 that I’d always taken for granted was gone.  It was to become a classical only station run by WPLN.  I’ll leave it at that.

A number of weeks ago I discovered that a number of the staff at WRVU are aiming to take the reins and establish a new, independent station called WXNA.  Recently they held a fundraiser at Grimey’s Too, where I was lucky enough to meet some of those DJ’s.  One such kind person, Heather Lose, granted the time to answer some questions about WXNA.

(Start of interview)

HS&C:  What was your affiliation with WRVU, and what years were you active with the station?

Heather:  I also grew up listening to the station, and because of “91 Rock,” which is was called years ago, found the Smiths, Sisters of Mercy, Violent Femmes, and more amazing bands than I could ever list. R.E.M. The Kinks!  This was before the internet, before MTV. So there just weren’t that many ways of getting turned on to cutting-edge music, and Nashville was a completely different city, too.  Not nearly as cosmopolitan as it is today.  I’m not sure I’d be a lifelong rabid fan of music if we hadn’t had that resource here while I was a teenager, so it’s not an understatement to say that it changed my life.

One year I designed the poster and T-shirt for the station’s annual benefit show at the Exit/In.  It turns out that my husband, John Reed, played his first show with a band called Raging Fire that night, though they were billed as “Mystery Guests” on the poster.

We weren’t even 21 yet. It probably would make for a better story had we met and fallen in love at the benefit, but it took another couple of decades—but what the story illustrates is the magnetism of WRVU.  If you grew up here, you were a fan, and if you were in any way motivated, you found some way to get involved.

Years later, I brought my show “The Honky Tonk Jukebox” to WRVU in May, 2009, and it was on the air until they pulled the plug in June 2011.

HS&C:  Am I correct in stating that Vanderbilt’s decision to sell the station to WPLN was rather abrupt?  I seem to remember that there wasn’t a lot that the station supporters could do to stop the sale from taking place, even though there were some rather well known supporters who were vocal in opposing WRVU’s demise, including Chuck D from Public Enemy.

Heather:  I’m not sure that any of the on air deejays or volunteers saw it coming. Pete Wilson, who was the last deejay on WRVU as we knew it then—a terrestrial station—was on the air when the whole thing went down. He had the presence of mind to ask if he could play one last song before the whole thing was sent to dark, and did. If any of your readers would like to read his account of the end, you can, at http://www.nashvillescene.com/nashville/the-dj-who-signed- wrvu-off-the-public-airwaves-describes-the-end/Content?oid=2507090

HS&C:  After the station went dark at 91.1, you are right. Many people pitched in to try to keep it as a resource at Vanderbilt—for the students of Vanderbilt, but it was not a successful effort.  What was the genesis of considering starting an independent station?  Have you and all of the mainstay DJ’s involved with WRVU stayed in touch since the stations’s sale to WPLN?

Heather:  WRVU Friends and Family was the organized entity fighting the sale. They were an extremely motivated, vocal group led by Sharon Scott. When the sale became a reality, they agreed to pass the reins on to our group who is now bringing WXNA to life. We are the silver lining gang. We are all music geeks, and though we didn’t truly make strides to stay in touch, would oddly find ourselves in the same places after WRVU went off the air. One of my favorite memories was being asked to spin records at Grimey’s for Record Store day. I showed up with my box of discs, and lo and behold—there are Pete Wilson from “Nashville Jumps” and Randy Fox from “Hipbilly Jamboree,” also working at the deejay booth. As the relative newbie at WRVU, I was super intimidated, but over the course of the afternoon, realized what good company I was in.

This is a great question. I’m not entirely certain how our little group came to gel. We had some meetings early on with a few more people who sort of drifted away. And we’ve had others drift in. As far as we are concerned, all are welcome, and we have a volunteer form on our site at wxnafm.org.

HS&C:  The facility to be used for the broadcasting of WXNA is in Germantown, correct?  How did you find the building?  Has it been used for broadcasting previously?

Heather:  The tower will be in Germantown. We don’t yet know where the studio will be.

HS&C:  What steps need to be taken for the station to launch? What is your desired timeline for all of this to happen?

Heather:  The biggest step is to raise the money. We are shooting for $100,000. It’s a lot. But if everyone who ever loved this station donated the amount of a night on the town, we would be well on our way. We’ll be doing crowd funding and are currently brainstorming other creative means for raising the funds.  The FCC gave us until June 2016 to have the whole thing up and running.  We’ll do it sooner if we meet our fundraising goals sooner!

HS&C:  How can people who want to support the station contribute? The fundraising event at Grimey’s Too seemed to have quite a positive response, but I know that doesn’t provide a constant stream of the needed long-term income.  For us layperson fans and supporters, what can we do outside of spreading the word on social media?

Heather:  We were THRILLED by the turnout and positive energy at our first event at Grimey’s Too! We so appreciate you coming, and all the other folks who showed up, too. There are several ways to get involved right now—

• Sign up to volunteer at wxnafm.org/contactus.  Then, amazing Ashley Crownover is establishing our volunteer database so that when we are ready to fully engage, we can reach out to our people and get our boots on the ground.
• Like us on Facebook and follow us on twitter, and invite your friends to do the same!
• Donations are very welcome, even at this early stage of the game. It’s easy. Our website and Facebook page both have links to our Paypal link.

HS&C:  For the last question, do you have any memories you’d like to share about WRVU?

Heather:  I have a million great memories of WRVU, including an hour-long interview with Exene Cervenka, who is one of my punk heroes.  But I gotta be honest—these days, we are all about looking to the future, and envisioning what WXNA will bring to this city that we all love so much. We are going to be small, but mighty. And our hopes and dreams are huge!

HS&C:  Thank you so much for your time, Heather. I really hope this all works out well for all of you. Nashville needs a good radio station again.

~ Benjamin Harper of Hot Sauce and Coffee