WWOZ On the Good Foot
After 18 years on-air doing a Friday evening jazz slot on DC’s bastion of community radio, WPFW, one of my first priorities upon landing in New Orleans last October was a prospecting visit to the studios of WWOZ, community radio in the Crescent City. GM David Freedman and Program Director Dwayne Breashears, clearly recognizing a community radio diehard, were quite welcoming. I had been familiar with WWOZ mainly from many trips to Jazz Fest, the two New Orleans IAJE conferences, and assorted other conference and meeting trips down here. Familiarity with WWOZ came courtesy primarily through the programming exploits of Michael Gourrier ("Mr. Jazz"), Michael Kline, and the late, lamented "Moose".
I vividly remember pulling over on Canal Street one sultry April morning during Jazz Fest while Suz dashed across the street for a coffee and being thoroughly enthralled by a John Sinclair spin of George French’s unforgettablly rich-voiced rendition of the Hoagy Carmichael classic "New Orleans." A quick trip to the now-defunct Decatur Street Tower Records store and I was introduced not only to George French but to his drumming brother Bob French and his Tuxedo Jazz Band. Arriving down here last fall for this as yet undetermined spell in the Crescent City, 90.7 FM (listen live at www.wwoz.org) became my instant broadcast soundtrack for life in NOLA. Flipping on the station Tuesdays and Fridays 9-11 am even yielded the sardonically-humored, New Orleans-proud, Musician’s Village-dwelling Bob French himself (hear him musically on his ’07 Marsalis Music Honors series disc).
WPFW is part of that last bastion of politically progressive radio stations the Pacifica network; a station whose motto "Jazz & Justice" is manifested by a balanced menu of jazz, Latin, blues, global rhythms, R&B and left-leaning politics, much of it from a decidedly African American perspective befitting DC’s populace. On the other hand WWOZ is thoroughly, 100% about music; leave politics for others to ponder. Much of WWOZ’s music is about roots — classic blues and R&B, New Orleans and Louisiana music, likely the most radio hours devoted to early jazz in America, modern jazz, a strong global strip on Saturdays, gospel on Sundays, and an "open door policy" towards resident artists’ recordings and interview opportunities.
Yes, I do know the drill at community radio; i.e. it wasn’t about walking in off the street with 30+ years of public radio experience in my pocket and being immediately installed in a programming slot. The community radio pecking order calls for signing up as a program sub and abiding your time for openings. Fortunately those openings have come at a decent clip for yours truly. And in a fascinating twist I’ve been able to stretch a bit musically. As is the case at WPFW programmers largely work from their own extensive record collections, in the case of WWOZ largely eschewing a station record library that was severely depleted by Katrina and is just now getting back up to speed.
WWOZ, a station with an impressive percentage of ‘net listeners from across the globe who also contribute mightily during the station’s pledge drives, is a decidedly "character" driven radio station. Besides Bob French the characters abound, including "Jelly Roll Justice", "The Problem Child", "Black Mold", "Gentilly", the stellar Saturday evening classic R&B spinner who goes by "The Soul Sister", "Hazel the Delta Rambler", "The Midnight Creeper", "Big D", "Jivin’ Gene", "The Minister of Swing", "Cousin Dmitri", "Brother Jesse", the Operations Director is the inimitable "Freddie Blue"… you get the drift.
My own stretching has enabled me to work towards fresh and unique combinations of music from my collection, often spinning styles of music I’d never had a previous opportunity to radio program particularly when subbing for one of the nightly "Kitchen Sink" 10-midnight slots which I’ve had the pleasure of doing on several occasions. That particular format, as in "everything but…" has a tendency to be about R&B at the core with opportunities for myriad related spin-offs. I’ve tended to take the format literally by its title, which might call for a set featuring for instance the neo-soul sista Sy Smith, followed by John Coltrane, Sekou Sundiata, the Neville Brothers, and concluding with some Jimi Hendrix. Yes you can roll that way with the "Kitchen Sink."
Depending upon when/if you read this, the next upcoming opportunities to catch the Open Sky way on the WWOZ airways are Thursday, March 27 and Friday, March 28 subbing for the Morning Jazz Set from 6-9am CST; and sitting in for my man "Black Mold" on the daily New Orleans Music Show Thursday, April 11 from 11am-2pm CST. And the WWOZ studio line is 504/568-1234. Listen live at www.wwoz.org.