big for the airwaves?: Bryan Thomas performs at the
radio-station head Chris Wienk saw an empty niche in the local
music landscape and set out to fill it
at the “Exit Dome,” a tongue-in-cheek name given to the WMHT
studios in Troy for the night of a “Local 518” benefit concert
back in January, local musicians linger in the gleaming hallways
of the public-broadcast station, waiting to record on-air
interviews with Chris Wienk, the creative force behind WMHT’s
fledging radio station 97.7 WEXT. Michael Eck of the Ramblin
Jug Stompers passes through, and members of the Troy rock
band Super 400 greet old friends in the hall, talking excitedly
about their recent recording session at the legendary Ardent
Studios in Memphis, Tenn.
A few labyrinth-like corridors away, on the stage of the benefit
concert—which is broadcasting live over the WEXT airwaves—Albany
songwriter Bryan Thomas vocalizes his witty ruminations about
the local scene (“You think you’re too big for Schenectady”),
and local singer Sarah Pedinotti and her band Railbird electrify
the crowd with a vigorous rendition of Arlo Guthrie’s “Motorcycle
Talking on the air during a between-set interview segment
with local duo 28N, Wienk sounds downright effusive about
the night’s wealth of local music talent: Artists from Sgt.
Dunbar and the Hobo Banned to Matthew Loiacono donated their
performances to support the commercial-free radio station,
which plugs and regularly plays music from the “local 518”
scene. “[When we started the radio station] I was floored
by the fact that there wasn’t another station willing to play
this music in the daylight hours,” Wienk tells 28N on the
A few weeks later, in the same recording studio at WMHT headquarters,
Wienk explains how the listener-supported radio station came
to have such a close involvement with the local music scene.
“The main thing I said when we first started out is we need
to make a pledge to the listeners that we will show them and
play the people who make music here,” he says. “We play at
least one local artist every hour. If the music sucked here,
would we do that? Probably not. But it’s really, really good.
If we didn’t play the local stuff, it’d be like why are we
really here—what’s the point?”
WEXT 97.7 FM in its current format came to be in 2007, after
WMHT Public Broadcasting purchased a struggling local classical-music
station that competed with its own classical radio station,
WMHT-FM 89.1. “The people who were running it were going bankrupt.
We were thinking it might be good to own our competitor,”
says Wienk, WMHT’s vice president of radio. WMHT took ownership
of the station in January of 2006 and maintained its classical
format for a year, until the station’s success started to
erode the listenership of its classical flagship, WMHT-FM.
talked about what we would do with this station. We talked
about this relatively new format in radio,” Wienk says of
“Triple A,” which stands for “adult album alternative.” As
painful as that name sounds, commercial and noncommercial
stations in the Triple A format—which has roots in the progressive
radio of the 1960s—tend to be more adventurous and offbeat
than their classic-rock or Top 40 counterparts, playing deeper
album cuts and showcasing lesser-known indie bands.
decided the market could really use a station like this,”
Wienk says. “We made the switch in July of 2007. [Morning-show
host and technical operations director] Dave Michaels and
I turned the station around in about 60 days.” On any given
day, WEXT’s set list revisits songs from canonical rock bands
of the past five decades, from the Who to Siouxsie and the
Banshees, playing them alongside a steady stream of local
artists and many of the hip, new indie-rock bands who previously
saw airplay only on college radio stations: bands like Black
Kids, Peter, Bjorn & John, the Decemberists, and Yeasayer.
and I created WEXT so we wouldn’t have to find out about music
through the next commercial,” Wienk says, talking about how
some of the best new artists are more likely to gain exposure
through, say, an iPod or car commercial on television than
they are from modern rock radio. “Gone are the days when your
song’s in a commercial and you’re a sellout. That’s how a
lot of people are hearing music these days, because there
aren’t radio stations like EXT.
think that’s one of the reasons the music industry is hurting
so bad,” he says. “[Commercial radio stations] have a very
fixed space of music they’ll play. Younger people are not
turning to radio for music anymore. So they’re turning to
blogs, the Internet, places where you can download the music
for free and it no longer has the monetary value. It’s a vicious
cycle, I think. The tightening of music formats on radio stations
was an initial contributor to why the music industry is in
the state it’s in.
play a lot of songs that other stations don’t play. We’re
always looking around on blogs for new music,” he adds. “We
hear from listeners when they’ve found stuff. We love that.
It’s a lot of fun to see listeners discovering new music.
Take a band like the Hold Steady or the Felice Brothers [from
the Catskills]. They’ve gotten fairly huge but more and more
people are still finding out about them. Right from the outset,
we were playing [local] artists like Sarah Pedinotti and the
Kamikaze Hearts, who have been around for some time, but we’re
still getting calls from people who are just finding out that
there are these amazing artists right in their own backyard.
These artists are too good to not be heard.”
Matthew Loiacono, a local musician and founder of the Round
Lake-based Collar City Records label, first heard about WEXT
when Wienk contacted him prior to the station’s launch to
let him know that the station planned to debut with a song
by Loiacono’s band: “Ash Wednesday” by the Kamikaze Hearts.
“We were flattered and surprised,” Loiacono says. “The station
kind of came out of nowhere and has been on my mind ever since.
I guess there was a hole where WEXT once was because now I
can’t imagine doing without.”
the air: (l-r, foreground) Mike Guzzo of CRUMBS and
Dave Michaels of WEXT, with (l-r, background) Michael
Eck and Greg Haymes of Ramblin Jug Stompers.
the station launch, Loiacono helped Wienk put together a “Local
518” compilation CD of regional tracks as a premium for a
station pledge-drive, and had a hand in organizing WEXT’s
January benefit concert. “The radio play is a necessary ‘prong’
in a promotional campaign, where folks who read about an album
in Metroland or the Times Union, etc. can actually
hear it somewhere other than the Internet,” Loiacono says.
“It’s an important puzzle piece that was missing for a long
time in the area.
the last year or so, I’ve witnessed the potential power of
WEXT as some of the songs from my album, Kentucky,
were put into regular rotation. The staff DJs are very well-versed
and studied on all things local music, so they are quick to
point out upcoming shows and happenings during their shows
on-air. The station’s promise to include at least one Capital
Region-born song per hour in regular rotation is priceless.
There are few stations in the country that are doing something
feel that we really care, and we do,” Wienk says. “There are
so many great bands here. It’s a shame if they don’t get more
exposure. It’s a whole new era now. Bands don’t have to be
on a major label to get their stuff out there. The hope is
that we can one day do for this region what some of these
other [Triple A] stations, like in the one in Louisville [Kentucky],
have done for their artists,” by breaking them on the national
The approach seems to be taking off, with the station gaining
listeners throughout the Capital Region, and listeners from
around the country who listen to the radio station online.
(WEXT’s Amsterdam-based transmitter reaches much of the Capital
Region, with a few exceptions; for those out of reach, Wienk
recommends WiFi radio).
kind of feedback we’re getting anecdotally has been great,”
Wienk says. “Each of our pledge drives has gone way up over
the last one. The audience keeps growing. It takes a while.
You have to build trust. We’re the first line of exposure
for some of these artists. It’s not a fast road. The hard
part for us is the amount of time it takes. . . . We get 250
CDs a week crossing our desks.
want to be the best radio station anyone has ever heard. Will
we be? Probably not. But we keep trying. The listeners can
tell us. That’s part of what’s so fun about doing the station.
We’re hoping that listeners in a push-button world will understand,
‘I may not be really into this song, but I bet I’ll like the
artists can find information about how to submit their releases
to WEXT via the station’s Web site at exit977.org.
FORWARD March 20 is the first day of spring.
What better time to celebrate a new album? That’s
what the guys and girl of Lynch were likely
thinking when they scheduled their CD-release
party at Tess’ Lark Tavern. While the band have
been kicking around the regional music scene for
a few years, with roots in the waning days of
jam-scene favorites Conehead Buddha (vocalists
Terrence and Shannon Lynch both played horns in
that band for a time), At the End of My Rope
is the group’s first full-length CD. Anchored
by the rhythm section of Colin Almquist (Voodelic)
and Jim Loughin (moe.), the band mash up hip-hop,
rock, jam, and Latin music, with Terrence Lynch’s
rap-spoken lyrics at the front of the mix. The
disc was produced by Buddha frontman Chris
Fisher at his Easter Island Productions studio,
and it sounds like a recipe for a great live show;
find out for yourself next Friday at the Lark.
For more on Lynch, visit lynchband.com.
BLOOM Also celebrating new beginnings this
spring are longtime scenemaker Ralph Renna
and his brand new band with former members of
Conflict of Interest and Execution Style, Black
John Wayne. Fans of Renna’s other band, Last
Call, won’t be disappointed by the direction taken
here: BJW stay true to the Troycore sound. But
a listen to the band’s four-song demo offering
(currently available for download at myspace.com/blackjohnwayneny)
yields some surprises, like the acoustic “Hurricane,”
on which Renna’s guttural bark is softened to
a bluesy croon. Who woulda thunk it? Brett
Portzer is currently recording the band at
North Sea Production, and their debut disc, Serenade
of the Black and Blues, is expected this fall.
In the meantime, BJW will make their live debut
on April 29 at Savannah’s.
TOO Music lovers and aspiring performers can
have their shot at getting a gig at Revolution
Hall this month, thanks to the band Sirsy.
The constantly touring duo have announced a contest
to coincide with their next hometown gig. Record
a video of yourself performing a Sirsy song—you
can either play along to a recorded track or develop
your own rendition—and upload it to YouTube. The
band will screen all entries and announce a winner
on March 23 via their Web site. The winner will
join the band onstage at their Revolution Hall
show on March 28. Further details are available
us know about local-music news and happenings
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