WWOZ/Jazz Fest II: Community Voices

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Welcome to part two of my focus on local radio and community. Today, I am going to present some of the input I have gotten from members of the community here in New Orleans during the 2008 Jazz and Heritage Fest. I contacted many people at different socioeconomic strata as well as different geographic areas to ask them for their thoughts about WWOZ (90.7fm). These quotes have been gathered in person, over the phone, and via email over the course of this second weekend of Jazz Fest. The question was a simple one: “What does WWOZ mean to you?”

The relevancy of radio here in the Crescent City illustrates what, to me, is the true power of the medium as it reaches throughout our battered city and beyond to create continuity for New Orleanians wherever they may be.

WWOZ is the musical spirit of the city’s soul for New Orleanian radio listeners. When I need to find out the down-home, small venue events, I go to WWOZ to find out who, what, when and where. I don’t need to know the why. In between those small gems of information is the wonderful music that embodies the culturally rich musical heritage of New Orleans. If I were to try and capture the names here, I’d go on for pages and pages. I’ll spare myself the agony and go tune in to WWOZ instead, where I get to hear the music of my home and feel it’s vibration through my soul. WWOZ is and always will be my hometown radio love.

Michael “ReX” Dingler, NoLA Rising

Feelings such as Dingler’s abound. Locally relevant content combined with programming that has a global appeal — this is a great example of how these two key elements can create dedication in listeners even beyond the broadcast range.

I discovered WWOZ when I moved to New Orleans from New York in 2003. The music pouring into my ears made me know I was finally home. During the two years it took to put our house together after the storm, WWOZ was the only constant in a haze of debris removal and drywall dust. Just listening to all that amazing music gave me the stamina to drag out another bag of garbage, bleach down some more mold, nail in another piece of flooring. I renamed WWOZ my “Renovation Station” – thank you for all your wonderful work!

Marrus, painter, illustrator, storyboard artist & really lousy drywaller

Another local creator and musician shares his two cents:

[…]only WWOZ speaks from the heart of this great city’s role in growing the roots of all modern music! And it speaks not only to the city but to the world, via internet — a value that cannot be overestimated in this post-Katrina era.

Who broadcasts Jazz Fest on the radio? WWOZ. Who recognizes and plays timeless local music? WWOZ. What station is my car radio tuned to? WWOZ! If WWOZ doesn’t represent New Orleans on the radio, who will?

Lewis D’Aubin AKA Dr. Pinkerton of The Consortium of Genius

But my personal favorite is the response I got from New Orleans Blogger Mark Folse who rather than send me a paragraph or two wrote a lengthy, inspiring, and heartfelt response on his own blog. Here is just a taste of it:

During my almost 20 years away from the city, WWOZ and programs like it’s Jazz Fest broadcasts were one of the links that offered me an opportunity to experience the grace of New Orleans, that redeemed what seemed at times the mortal sin of leaving. When I lived in the far north, I would spend some of the first decent days of Spring not out clearing my yard but huddled in my cool basement around my computer, the WWOZ stream struggling through the dial-up connection like a short-wave broadcast from another continent. When the entire city went dark in September ‘05, one of the first thing I found was the ‘OZ stream out of New Jersey. It was the sound track of all of my early postings to Wet Bank Guide.

WWOZ and Jazz Fest are both prominent ambassadors for New Orleans, and links that tie us all together: the people who are home, the ones still somewhere else by circumstance or choice, and the visitors lured by the glamor of the city. Without either institution the city would somehow survive, even if dearly diminished, even as we survived the steady erosion of some of our cultural landmarks over the last generation. Even with the gaping hole the absence of either would leave behind, it would still be New Orleans. Those of us here would find the music and the food and the spirit of the street parade on our own. Not so the displaced or the visitors who descend on the city every year for the Fest. Without ‘OZ streaming into the world or the Fest to draw it’s listeners here, the numbers of the foreign legion of New Orleans would be fewer and their strength diminished. We would be silently but certainly undermined in our determination to live here and remake New Orleans if either were to stop.

Mark Folse, Toulouse Street

This is passion for radio, and it does not stop at the city limits. Since I had the distinct pleasure of hanging out with Jason Osburn from StreamGuys while I was at the NAB Show, I dropped him a line as well. (Back when I was a web producer for WWOZ, I had my first introduction to Jason’s company as they handle the streaming for the station.) Despite suffering physical illness, he jumped at the chance to speak about the station:

“WWOZ contacted us for [streaming] service shortly before Katrina hit. Having spent some time in New Orleans, I was very excited for the opportunity to work with them.

Many of us at StreamGuys have a background in music, so to be working with a station so known for it’s support of it’s culturally important local music scene was a treat. When Katrina occurred, we extended a helping hand by offering them free streaming services for a month. We later learned they didn’t initially use our service as they were able to initiate their “WWOZ in Exile” stream from servers at WFMU in New Jersey for a period of time.

Over the years, we have watched WWOZ’s webcast popularity grow immensely. Their unique format is now enjoyed outside the boundaries of their terrestrial broadcast range.

Music spreads and helps retain the soul and the history of culture. To this end, WWOZ is an important station. We hope to continue our relationship with them for many years to come.”

Jason Osburn, Executive Vice President, StreamGuys, Inc.

These are just a few reactions. There are many more still coming in, but this should illustrate what power the medium has. There are still many areas here that are only marginally inhabited, and many that lack any sort of Internet access. For those areas and people the power of broadcast is a lifeline, raising spirits and providing information for our residents as we rebuild. At the same time the stream reaches out across the world sharing our unique musical legacy with the global audience. When I used to answer the help emails for the station I would get notes all the time from people in Spain, Russia, South America and just about anywhere you can imagine thanking the station for reaching out and bringing them the sounds of New Orleans.

Community, macro and micro. Radio engages on both levels. While the digital revolution is incredibly important, we must not lose sight of the fact that broadcast still has a place in the media ecosystem. A huge place, especially if you are from New Orleans.

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.

Photo by George “Loki” Williams

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