Live From the New Orleans Jazz Fest: Community and Radio

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A lot has been bandied about recently on the subject of local content and community in regard to radio. Over the next few days, Radio2020 will be bringing you a case study of the subject as I blog from the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival along with WWOZ 90.7 FM.

WWOZ started back in 1980 and has continued to garner attention as an integral part of the New Orleans community and a pillar of the global music scene. In the post-levee failure era, they have become custodians of our musical culture at a point where it is in danger of becoming a mere conservatory lesson instead of an organic and growing tradition. Areas like the now famous 9th Ward were not just locations of severe flooding, they were also the neighborhoods where musical traditions were passed down from generation to generation.

The community nature of the station was thrown into sharp relief by their actions taken on September 10, 2005, barely a week after flood waters filled our city. It was then that the station — “WWOZ in Exile” at that point — partnered with the Library of Congress and the Grammy Foundation in an attempt to preserve its extensive archives of unique and irreplaceable music.

From the Library of Congress website:

WWOZ-FM, the legendary community-supported radio station in New Orleans, has gifted the Library of Congress with more than 7,000 hours of live jazz and blues recordings spanning 15 years. The contribution, which comes after Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters nearly destroyed the station’s primary tape storage facility, will ensure the safety of the station’s collection of historic recordings. In support of this remarkable gift, the GRAMMY Foundation® has awarded WWOZ $45,000 in grants toward the preservation of the collection.

“We are excited about this unique collection and look forward to partnering with WWOZ and the GRAMMY Foundation to preserve it and make the historic recordings available to the American people,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington.

Granted, being a native New Orleanian, I am biased, but there is no refuting the fact that these guys are exemplars of our community. When the station comes up in conversation, everyone has a favorite DJ and a favorite show. People all over the world tune in through the online stream as they broadcast live from Jazz Fest and other events, pumping the vibrancy of the New Orleans sound across the Internet while locals turn the dial to 90.7 FM.

Over the next few days I will bring you conversations with some of the listeners, staff and volunteers of WWOZ. Old school community, old school character, and new fangled technology.

I know that when I was in my own Katrina Exile, I almost cried when the stream came back up and I heard the strains of Gatemouth Brown emitting from my laptop speakers. Stranded in New York City staying with friends, we felt uprooted and despondent, not knowing who was alive or dead. Not knowing if we could ever return to the city my family has called home for 17 generations. It was a dark and unlovely period.

Fearful and broke (we had just paid for our wedding / honeymoon and the storm came the day before payday), the stress of those times quite literally gave me the shakes. When the sounds of WWOZ came on again and gave us a taste of home, for the first time in roughly two weeks I was finally able to smile again. THAT is what local content truly means.

Check out their stream, live from the Jazz Fest at WWOZ.org.

Transparency: My relationship with WWOZ goes back a number of years. I have worked for them in both paid and pro bono capacities and, as a result, have an inside perspective. I have worked in capacities ranging from Web Producer to Will Call over the years. While I am at the Jazz Fest this year, I am donating work once again as a Blog Producer for their Jazz Fest Blog while analyzing their impact and influence on New Orleans culture and community here on the Radio2020 blog. It is my experiences with WWOZ that made me into the proponent of radio that I am today. They are the biggest reason that I accepted this assignment with Radio2020 in the first place.

Picture Courtesy of George “Loki” Williams (your humble blogmaster) used by special permission, all other rights reserved

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