It was the confluence of two of Sharon Scott’s passions that led to the genesis of Louisville’s ARTxFM, a nonprofit, independent and one-of-a-kind radio station.
In college at Vanderbilt, the former English major and now executive director of radio station WXOX ARTxFM, fell in love with college radio but then completed her honors thesis in performance art.
“These two paths started converging for me,” said Scott. “At the dawn of radio, people experimented with it as an actual art form. It was neighborhood radio stations that broadcast plays, music, weird sounds,” she said. “But it quickly got gobbled up by commercial and religious interests.” Scott said she became intrigued with the realization of how little space artists have on the FM dial to play with the medium and what it potentially could do.
Fast forward a few years to 2011. A low power FM movement had been underway for a few years, making it possible for FM frequencies to be open to nonprofits for the first time. At a Grassroots Radio Conference Scott attended, she met people, and a gathering of interested folks in Louisville led to the formation of a board of directors. The vision for ARTxFM was to be a creative radio station that used the medium of radio to experiment.
While waiting for the laborious process of obtaining an FCC license Scott worked alongside technical director Sean Selby, and her Board of Directors to
launch the stream of ARTxFM.com at the September 2013 Idea Festival.
“It was the perfect place to launch in the company of an amazing collection of thinkers from all over the world,” said Scott. “We paired local interviewers with IdeaFest presenters and played music in between. That was our first broadcast, and we officially launched live continuous stream April 2014 – from our first studio in Nulu. Now here we are, and we just celebrated six years of continuously broadcasting online, and three years on the FM dial at 97.1 FM.”
Viewers can tune in to the ad-free station through the website at artxfm.com, through the “WXOX” mobile app, or on the radio dial. “Our job is to educate the community and give artists and community members access for the airwaves for free and creative use.”
To say that the radio programming on the 24-7 station is eclectic is an understatement. From A to Z, the station gives voices to a panoply of perspectives. From “Acentos,” an exploration of the arts through the eyes of Spanish speakers, to “Z-Radio,” a program produced by students of the Communication Magnet at DuPont Manual High School, the station is a rich and robust landscape of creative thought and music. Though there are multiple genres represented; blues, funk, soul, punk, post-punk, reggae, world music, jazz, ambient, psychedelic, radio commentary, the list goes on, Scott said the programming goes beyond genres.
“We curate people who have distinct tastes in music or genres. We are really looking to amplify voices that are not heard in other spaces – music not heard in other places,” she said. “If it’s accessing something different and stretching the idea of what radio can be, we’re all for it. What’s cool about it is it keeps listeners guessing what might happen next.”
Programming way outside the box
That description may be apt for host Darrick Wood’s interactive radio program Inside a Question, which for its three years on air has been “exploring the mysteries of the universe, one small idea at a time.”
Wood, who moved to Louisville 15 years ago when he married his wife, famous local chef Damaris Phillips, is an education consultant who also designs museum exhibits. From friends in the music world, he learned about ARTxFM, and pitched a show that he hoped would help people become active and plugged in to their community. Inside a Question, airing every Sunday from 5 to 6 pm, poses a question at the beginning of every episode, and then figures out a way to answer it out in the world with some kind of experiment. One recent example: “How important are thumbs?”
To explore the question, Wood invited everyone on their mailing list to take part in a live experiment, and asked them to show up at a certain time on a certain corner. Wood and about 20 others who showed literally taped their thumbs down and performed a series of everyday tasks together, such as going to a bar and out for Indian food, as well as bathroom breaks and buttoning their coats, to see for themselves the importance of thumbs.
In addition to Inside a Question, Wood recently started a new radio venture by recruiting volunteers to produce an old-time radio play like the type that were popular in the 1940s, before the advent of television. “It’s the Captain Tomorrow Radio Hour – with the slogan ‘Listen to yesterday’s radio today,’” said Wood. “It has been performed live twice on Fridays airing at midnight, with engineering, sound effects and voice actors just like they did then.”
“What ARTxFM is so good at is setting up this station 24-7 and then backing out of the way and letting people use their own voices and share their own perspectives,” said Wood. “It’s powerful. Most of the people at the station don’t have a background in radio, but maybe they have a background in Senegalese funk music because they’re from Senegal. They’re the perfect expert for this, but how else would you hear this without having this ambassador for this world?”
Paving the way for underground arts scene
Besides experimental radio, deejay Tia Coatley said ARTxFM is a wonderful forum for diverse voices of the underground music and arts scene. Coatley hosts and curates two programs for the station, the Tia Maria show, with a conversational platform, which airs Tuesdays from 4 to 5 pm immediately followed by Soul Glow, a 5 pm ride home all-music hour focusing on neo-soul and other hand-selected cuts from Coatley’s music collection.
“What I love about ARTxFM is how it contributes to, embraces and celebrates the underground music scene and arts scene, one that we didn’t even know was out there,” she said. “No one would even know Jack Harlow was a thing without ARTxFM,” she said.”
Coatley’s show was one of the first to air on the station in 2013, and then she left to explore corporate radio at Majic 101.3 and The Beat 93.1. She returned to the WXOX airwaves in 2017, with a new format of pop culture discussion and music, and exploring the zeitgeist.
“I like tapping in to what is going on in the moment, and I also like encouraging people to find ways to have strength to believe in yourself,” said Coatley. “When I was a kid, someone once told me my smile was ugly and I didn’t smile again for years. I spun that talk into my show by having a segment about difficult situations in life and examples of the ways people are overcoming that now.” With a robust social media presence, Coatley sometimes goes live on Instagram with her program, engaging in way that creates an immediate connection with listeners.
“’ART FM’ is impactful in the community by allowing this type of experiential radio to be available to regular people like myself. Their embrace of the arts community is everything. With art and music cut from public school budgets, there are creative souls out there who would otherwise not have an outlet to promote themselves or showcase their work. They’re keeping that bloodline alive for the arts community and giving a platform to those who are just natural creators.”
Scott said what is happening in art in general and life in general is the blurring of boundaries. “It’s no longer, well, this is modernism, this is realism, this is painting, this is photography. You see artists tearing down those walls by using everything all around us all the time to create art, not just keeping art within museums but busting out into the streets and into the community. We’re dealing with real world issues, not just locked away in some ivory tower. That’s why I’m so passionate about radio because it is all those things – all happening live and in real time broadcasting out over the whole city and we don’t know who is tuning in – it’s magic.”