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Local radio, but no local music: 91.9 WFPK tends to ignore Louisville’s best in favor of national acts

by Michael Tierney

 

I’ve been a local music fan for a long, long time, and I can remember promoting local bands on the forums of blogs and big festival websites like Lollapalooza even as a teenager.

Why?

Easy.

Even at the age of 17, I believed Louisville music was as good, as cool and as rocking as any other city’s top acts.  My dreams of seeing Wax Fang at Lollapalooza in front of 80,000 have slowly faded, but the notion of our local talent being subpar in national comparison has never crossed my mind.

…and why should it?

I’ve been to the biggest festivals, I’ve seen the biggest bands (Kanye West, Jack White, Black Keys, Justice, Radiohead), but in examining talent and original music, the world’s best aren’t miles above our own (My Morning Jacket, Houndmouth, The Discount Guns, Ben Sollee, Jalin Roze). In fact, the biggest differences lay outside the music: live production quality, exposure, representation, and studio-production time… aka $$$.

With such great talent, why does the local scene seem to reflect the notion that Louisville can only have one big band in MMJ, possibly two with Ben Sollee? Well, one reason is because while our city is pretty cool, the demand for live local music is pretty slim.

The pond is still small.

Now, there are plenty of things to dive into, but none bigger than digging into the low demand for the good music in town. One reason is, the only radio-provider of local music is lacking some love.

91.9 WFPK:

Let me say – before this seems like a random blitzkrieg against 91.9 WFPK – we need independent radio here in town, as pop-radio has completely annihilated the ability for small artists to hit mainstream airwaves. Major radio stations sold out a long time ago, and it’s basically pay to be played.

91.9 WFPK plays pretty good music, sometimes outdated, but overall good jams. They also put on some awesome all-encompassing events, and much of my early musical development – where taste is concerned – I owe to them, as I discovered old favorites such as G. Love, Alexi Murdoch, Todd Snider, and Gnarls Barkley.

Plus, it was the only station I had a chance to rock out to MMJ and Wax Fang.

But how much is our “cool & hip” radio station doing for our local scene? As an independent station that operates from donations – from its listeners to local businesses – 91.9 WFPK should know how important keeping things local is for our city.  Local support = local growth, and 91.9 isn’t tending to the garden out back.

Where is the love from 91.9 in regards to local bands?

Well, in my opinion, there is none. Which limits growth and supply of information, as many who would be interested in local music are turning to a radio station that is disinterested in propping up bands in the area.

Facts supporting my opinion:

I got on 91.9 WFPK’s website and did some research, and if the website is up to date and the published playlists are correct, then local music airplay by our local music station is pretty appalling.

I listed the top 25 local artists I could think of who had quality recordings, and made a graph to track who WFPK plays.  Here is the total number of plays for some top local bands from  Dec. 21 through Jan. 19.

Online Graphing
Graph

This is no expert survey, but I think the results and playlists are clear.

WFPK isn’t playing a lot of local music, as most playlists had a range of 0-5 local songs during a three-hour mix.

Ben Sollee is obviously the station’s go-to local artist, as the cellist is played about every single day.

Nerves Junior, Whistle Peak, and Jalin Roze all made Paste Magazine’s top Kentucky bands, but have just one play between them.

Houndmouth broke through last year and toured the country, yet only got six plays.

Xeres, a heavy metal band that headlined a tour in Europe just a few months ago is sitting pretty at zero plays.

One of the city’s hottest bands, The Pass, came in with 10 plays.

Are 10 plays in about 30 days for one of Kentucky’s most marketable bands a lot? Not if you ask me.

Now I’m not going to get into which band is better than some other band. But I have two things to say about Sollee’s airplay in comparison to others:

1. When it comes to music, I disagree that Ben Sollee’s tunes are exponentially better than Wax Fang, Whiskey Bent Valley Boys, and many of the underplayed.

2. Isn’t Sollee’s local success evidence that if you play it enough, it will grow?  What if  a bunch of local bands were played as much as Sollee? Would there be rockstar overload?

I’m unsure what would happen if local bands dominated WFPK airwaves, but the more local rock stars we can produce here in town, the more “the scene” can grow in following.

Just ask Seidenfadens about their sales the night Jim James show up for a DJ set. The more vibrant our local music scene gets with personality and surprises, the more money can flow into local businesses.

(Photo via LouisvilleMusiCulture)

(Photo via LouisvilleMusiCulture)

Quick Side Note

Sollee is a prime example of an artist taking advantage of today’s resources for spirited entrepreneurs, with investments via Kickstarter, and other campaigns, which helped fund recordings. He has a strong local presence throughout the state and is writing songs in tune with the times.

Heck, he even got national notoriety for calling out Kanye West a few years ago … the power of social media is remarkable. Ben used his music and determination to eliminate many of the costs that cripple bands, then slowly grew, and eventually, Sollee crafted one of the most unique, and largest music followings in the state.

Back to the Radio

91.9 WFPK isn’t one entity. It’s a group composed of DJs with a variety of tastes, preferences, and listeners.

Marion Dries, Laura Shine, Kyle Meredith, and Sean Cannon are probably the most influential DJs when looking at airtime, and time slots. Each averaged a little above one play when examining five random playlists, and no DJ or themed show has a heavy emphasis on local music.

Pretty harsh if you ask me, when looking at a couple local songs, tops, in a three-hour window.

This harshness seems to reflect an attitude the radio station has toward local music, as only two Kentucky acts made the station’s top 100 Albums. Houndmouth also represented the region, and Cheyenne Mize, and Ben Sollee were the two Bluegrassers on the list. This is a vast under-representation, as there were some killer records made here last year.

The station did host a top local band and top local album of the year, as did we here at Insider Louisville, but when seeing the lack of airplay, lack of respect, and lack of enthusiasm toward Louisville area music, 91.9 WFPK listeners are almost told that local music is a bunch of minor leaguers in comparison to out-of-town bands, and that is simply not true in regards to talent, creativity, and original music-making ability.

The Irony, The Problem, & The Potential (My Conclusion):

Real quick, isn’t a local independent radio station that doesn’t play local independent music kind of ironic? Heck, it’s almost down right paradoxical.

The biggest problem in all of this is 91.9 WFPK is the city’s most accessible source to supply local music to a local band’s biggest potential market. Bands suffer from the disconnect in the market, but they also look illegitimate to the people they try and market to if they can’t even make “local radio.”

If you are listening to Justin Bieber, you aren’t going to be listening to 91.9 anyway, but if you like one of the many awesome bands in town, the alternative stations – Crescent Hill Radio, and Art FM – are kind of cool, but are more podcast than radio.  Local music isn’t hitting ears they really need to hit, their home base.

WFPK seems more interested in what national blogs are saying/playing, booking/playing bands that have proved successful in recent years, such as Todd Snider, Citizen Cope, and Josh Ritter. They’re interested in landing big acts and interviewing celebrities from outside the state. Yes, there is “Live Lunch,” which features local musicians quite frequently, but that constitutes one day, one hour, and usually is not aired during prime time. Many of the local bands that do get love from WFPK first find love from afar, and that includes MMJ, which shows the station is quick to coattail local success, but isn’t “making” any bands or rockstars.

In countering the above, I must say I am grateful for many of the bands WFPK has showcased and played over the years. My first concert was a WFPK event with My Morning Jacket opening up for Wilco. There was a triple encore performance of both bands playing “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” The station spurned my live music addiction.

At least WFPK is playing good music in tune with today, whether that is a new release or an old soul-funk song via Matt Anthony. Ben Lee’s “Catch My Disease” should probably be retired, but all in all, they play good music.

In fact, I’d much rather see the shows WFPK is booking at the YUM Center than Bon Jovi, Eric Clapton, Dave Matthews, and other large outdated payday seekers. It’s just expensive for the bucket.

If WFPK isn’t going to take advantage of the potential in this city, someone needs to. The talent, the ranging styles of music, and the personalities in the Louisville scene are outstanding.

I love My Morning Jacket, Jim James, and Ben Sollee, but they’re not the only cool people involved in local music… and I think they’d tell you the same thing.

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