In 2012, ARTxFM sent out its first broadcast online live from the lobby of the Kentucky Center of Performing Arts during IdeaFestival. The nonprofit organization was built upon giving a voice to local artists, and for four years it operated strictly online, building up its listeners, its staff and its reach.
On Feb. 14, 2016, after a tireless effort by the organization, it finally launched its vision on the FM dial, at 97.1, and now goes by the call letters WXOX.
The local radio station is celebrating this three-year milestone on Saturday, Feb. 9, with “Voix De Ville” at the Columbia Theatre. The event will feature live music, a silent auction, food trucks, a bar and, of course, all the DJs, engineers and hosts who make the channel possible.
Much of the hard work getting from an online outlet to the FM radio dial fell to founders Sharon M. Scott and Sean Selby, a wife-and-husband duo who relocated to Louisville soon after 9/11. Scott, who currently serves as the station’s general manager, tells Insider she literally drew the word “Louisville” out of a hat.
“At the time, I had no plan, no vision of why I moved here, but I was open to opportunity, and it didn’t take long for things to fall into place,” she says. “ARTxFM was founded in the living room of our Highlands home in the fall of 2011. The transmitters were built in the kitchen, sound booths filled the dining room and antennas were placed on the roof. On rainy nights, Sean played Coltrane while I drove around the neighborhood listening to how far we could get our Part 15 signal to go.”
Scott first worked in experimental programming while in college in Nashville at WRVU. Her thesis also was about the development of performance art, which she tried to merge with her radio work.
“As I began creating audio events on WRVU in relation to my thesis, I came to the conclusion that artists have had very little opportunity to experiment with radio since the dawn of its invention,” explains Scott. “It became a dream of mine to build an artist-run radio station, but it was not anything I imagined would become a reality.”
The mission of ARTxFM is to provide artists and community members with access to the airwaves for creative and experimental use. Many of the nonprofit’s 120 volunteer DJs, staff and board members have been with the organization from the beginning, so other than broadcasting to a wider audience, not much has changed.
“While every hour on ARTxFM is unique and surprising, our day-to-day operations have not changed much since the beginning,” says Scott. “The only difference between then and now is power: literal radiating power.”
Getting on the FM airwaves was helped in part by the Local Community Radio Act of 2010, which allowed nonprofits to squeeze into the empty spots on the FM dial, says Scott, spawning “a revival in local broadcasting nationwide. All across America, new low-power radio stations such as ARTxFM are taking to the airwaves, amplifying the voices of their community.”
(Crescent Hill Radio, WCHQ, also landed on the FM dial — at 100.9 — around the same time.)
Saturday’s celebration is something Scott has been looking forward to for a while, mainly because it breaks the wall between host and listener.
“Radio can sometimes be a lonely medium, and you don’t always know if anyone is listening,” she says. “‘Voix de Ville’ is the one time of year when our staff can come together and celebrate with the folks on the other side of the broadcast. This event is a great time to get feedback on our programming, and it is so inspiring to hear from the people who are listening.”
Performers at the event include Bungalow Betty, Pale Blue Star, Billie Aon, Ut Gret, Dad Hour, Cypher Divine, Peter Wesley, Brother Wolves, and Wayfarer Way DJs. The event runs from 6 to midnight on Saturday, Feb. 9, and admission is $15. The Columbia Theatre is located at 824 S. Fourth St.
Before Scott prepares to party, we asked her some very important questions …
What was your first concert?
Cyndi Lauper performing with The Bangles at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta is the first concert I will confess to attending. My best friend Erica and I danced our way up to the front, doing our best to ignore my eagle-eyed parents watching from several rows back.
As a youngster, it was very inspiring to see an all-female band opening for an empowering performer like Cyndi Lauper. I’m grateful for the strong females who dominated the pop music charts of my youth.
What could you give a 40-minute presentation on with absolutely no preparation?
The importance of community radio in undermining fascist regimes. With the demise of local newsrooms and the loss of net neutrality, community radio may soon be our only source for local information — our only space for speaking freely to one another outside of commercially designated spaces.
Radio, and the ability to communicate with thousands of people at once, is such a powerful thing. We have fun with it, playing music, interviewing guests, but when emergency strikes, that’s when we will know our real power — the power to save lives, the power to defend ideals.
What job would you be terrible at?
Police officer. Cook. Copy editor.
What is your favorite restaurant or bar?
Don Muchos in Palenque, Chiapas (Mexico). Fantasy Island except in the Jungle near the Lakamha ruins of the ancient Maya. Here the jungle opens to fire, drums and adventure. Daily excursions to hidden temples, nightly dancing under the stars.
What is something you think everyone should do at least once?
Speak on the radio! Everyone should have an opportunity to get on the microphone and express the things that are important to them and their community. It is so empowering simply to speak and know someone is listening.
Where would you direct a newcomer of Louisville to get a feel for the city?
WXOX 97.1 FM — tuning in to ARTxFM immediately connects the newcomer with the Voice of the City (Voix de Ville). It provides them with a direct link to the heart of the community. Over 100 volunteer DJs dedicate their time to the station throughout the week, bringing a fresh perspective to the airwaves every couple of hours.
In addition to providing current event and nonprofit information, WXOX DJs speak from their heart every time they get on air. They express themselves with music and discuss the topics important to their neighbors. It doesn’t take long for the WXOX listener to become well-acquainted with the happenings in the city and get up to date on the local musical trends. The friendly voices coming through the airwaves on 97.1 FM become companions for the newcomer, accompanying them as they navigate the roads of an unfamiliar city.
What keeps you here?
Possibility City! Why live anywhere else? Louisville made my radio dreams come true. Obtaining an FM frequency would not have been possible in more crowded markets like New York, L.A. or Chicago. Finding a range of diverse voices to fill the airwaves would not have been so easy in a less populated town.
Not too big, not too small, not to hot, not too cold — Louisville is just right. Fertile ground for wild dreams and the birth of WXOX couldn’t have happened anyplace else.