I have to confess, I don’t much listen to music on the radio anymore, which might seem odd for someone who most professionally identifies as a music journalist, but there you are. I have a short commute to work, wherein I usually listen to NPR or a local community radio channel, and if I have a longer drive ahead of me, it’s usually a podcast. At work, my ears are usually occupied by whatever song or album I’m currently writing about, and at home, I mostly crave the familiarity of my own playlists and music collection.
Still, when Vanyaland editor-in-chief Michael Marotta gave me a heads up about the independently owned radio station Oh, Hello Boston, which Marotta says is the only station “solely dedicated to spinning nothing but bands and artists from the region,” I have to admit, I was intrigued.
The regional aspect caught my attention, and naturally I asked if it played any artists with Worcester ties. They have, including Old Man Hansen, Joe Rockhead, The Curtain Society, The Curtis Mayflower, STEMS, The Marshall Pass, usLights, Sam Femino, Michael Kane & The Morning Afters and The New Colors.
Having DJ’d a show briefly for Unity Radio, I have a passing familiarity with how radio works, and also how difficult it is to find local music on the radio dial. When I would play Jafet Muzic, Abbie Cotto, Louie Gonz or other Worcester artists, I would get positive feedback. That said, Unity Radio has a relatively small reach. The city’s biggest stations — the Cumulus Media-owned Nash Icon 98.9 FM (WORC FM), which plays country music; 100 FM The Pike (WWFX), which plays classic rock, and 104.5 FM XLO (WXLO), which plays what it calls “Hot AC,” which is adult contemporary — doesn’t play local music often, because, as a rule, they only play music that has charted.
Bob Goodell, the Regional Vice President & Market Manager for Cumulus, says the only local artist they’re playing right now is “Voice” star Ricky Duran. “I don’t think any other local act that has original music has sent us any music to play in the past 18 months,” says Goodell, who also hints that they may be developing a show that could include more local music.
No, if you want to hear Worcester artists on the radio you have to go lower down the dial, or turn toward the internet, with “stations” and shows such as “Oh, Hello Boston,” “Boston Emissions,” “Wormtown Underground Radio Network” or “BumbleBee Radio,” each of which has its own set of priorities, and all of which except WURN are more Boston-based. Still, Worcester artists definitely have a presence on thee programs.
“Off the top of my head,” says BumbleBee Radio owner, programmer and host Kristen Eck, “Worcester (connected) artists I play include J Prozac, Evil Felipe, Lielack, Sapling, Michael Kane & The Morning Afters and from just outside the city in Marlboro Circus Trees and Pillbook PLBK. Those are the ones I can remember quickly. I’m sure there are more.”
But putting aside college radio such as WCHC, ERS and WUMB — college radio always has an anarchic streak — the place to hear Worcester artists is on local, community radio stations, such as WCUW, WICN and the aforementioned Unity Radio. Touching base with a few local DJs, it’s clear that these stations are still far more accessible to local artists than commercial or out-of-town radio. Chuck Chillin’ — the voice of WCUW deep into the night Saturdays on WCUW with “Smooth Grooves & Classic R&B” — has been playing local artists for years, including Sunta Africa, Geli, Jessie Hayes, Tyson Mays, Jongi and Amerika. Steve Blake, who hosts WCUW’s “The Drive” Mondays, has played numerous local artists, and noted plans to play the Curtis Mayflower on next week’s show.
Over on WICN, “The Folk Revival” host Nick Noble notes that he’s played many local artists on his Thursday show, including P.E. James, Kim Jennings, Kevin Kvein, Jon Short, Don Prange, Mark Mandeville & Raianne Richards, Ari Charbonneau, the late Sandy Haddon, Grade A Fancy, the Hip Swayers, Lori Diamond & Fred Abatelli, My Silent Bravery, James Keyes, Cara Brindisi, The Promise is Hope and jazz crooner Dale LePage, of whom Noble says, “I convinced him to perform a folk song!”
The upshot of all of this is that, while commercial radio still has the reach and audience — and that’s fine for what it is — it’s fundamentally irrelevant to local music. If you want that, then community radio and internet radio are definitely the places to tune in, and clearly, there are more choices than might seem apparent at first glance.