Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Future of local music showcase in jeopardy

One of the gems of Chicago's local music scene is the weekly cable access program, Chic-A-Go-Go! Hosted by Miss Mia and a puppetronic jokester known as "Ratso," Chic-A-Go-Go is sort of a warped combination of American Bandstand and Soul Train. Local and national artists from the underground music scene come on the program and lip-sync their latest singles while young kids, fully-costumed hipsters and random old guys dance in front of a low-budget stage drop. In-between the artist "performances" and interviews, everyone dances to dusty R&B, Rock & Roll, Punk and Funk classics. Other highlights include Rato's weekly "knock-knock" jokes and the Soul Train-inspired "el train" dance during the closing credits. In other words...this show is genius!! However, the future of the program could be in jeopardy due to financial problems at CAN TV, Chicago's cable access television network where Chic-A-Go-Go is produced. Here's what Jake Aust...errr.., I mean Ratso..., sent out to fans of the show last week: VERY IMPORTANT INFORMATION: HELP SAVE CAN-TV! For those of you who have been following the situation, CAN-TV, Chicago's cable access station, has been in some financial troubles because the cable companies that are contracted to fund us have not been paying. After over a year of wrangling it was decided that to insure that cable access, the home of Chic-A-Go-Go, has a future in Chicago, the city should fund us directly out of the fees that the cable companies pay to the city. This is how it is done in most major cities. Anyhow, this proposal was brought up several months ago in the City Council special committee and because so many people wrote in to the mayor and especially to their alderman it passed in committee, which was a victory because it meant the full City Council would vote on it. That vote is on Wednesday, September 1st. Please take two minutes and write to your alderman and the mayor and tell them you support access and what it to stick around! Email: MayorDaley@cityofchicago.org and your alderman - you can find out your alderman's e-mail here: http://www.ci.chi.il.us/CityCouncil/index.html For more information on the situation visit www.cantv.org Chicago Media Action has also been helping in the plight of CAN TV... for the latest info, go to their site, www.chicagomediaaction.org Chic-A-Go-Go airs Tuesday nights at 8:30 and Wednesday afternoons at 3:30 on Chicago cable access channel 19. For more information on the show, and how to attend a free taping, go to www.roctober.com Don't forget, the vote on CAN TV's funding is tomorrow (Sept. 1st).

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Dave's Poop Ship Destroyer is a Hell Ride!

So this story just refuses to die... Yes, everybody in the country knows by now that the Dave Matthews Band is being sued by the city of Chicago for dumping 800 lbs of human waste into the Chicago River and on unsuspecting patrons of an architecture tour boat. The latest in this story comes from the Friday (8/27) edition of the Sun-Times. Apparently, the owners of DMB's notorious tour bus are also facing lawsuit charges for transporting illegal fireworks across the Rhode Island state line. Now this wouldn't be that big of a charge...except that this particular incident also involved transporting rock has-beens Great White to the Rhode Island night club where the band's pyro-technics display (aka the illegally- transported fireworks) burned the placed to the ground and killed 80 people. This same tour bus company is also facing a lawsuit from hip-hop artists Jurassic 5, who are suing because their bus veered off of a highway in 2001, causing one of their band members to suffer a skull fracture. As Wesley Willis would say, this company's busses are a hell ride! However, so far the city of Chicago has only targeted the Dave Matthews Band, and not the owners of the bus. (but certainly another lawsuit against the bus owners is inevitable) And speaking of which...what's up with that fine that the city is seeking? $70,000?? That's it? Their bus drops 800 lbs of human waste into the river and on to a large number boat passengers riding below and the fine is only $70,000? Dave has been one of the top 5 arena draws for the last 10 years and has sold millions of records...$70,000 is chump change to Dave Matthews Inc. Shouldn't the band be subjected to a real punishment that fits the crime? Like clearing out the local record stores in Chicago and dumping 800 lbs of their shitty records into the river. Or better yet, how about a 1-2 year ban of their songs from the local airwaves? Steve Dahl's "Disco Demolition" in the 70's seemed to work pretty well in eradicating that awful music style...can we get another wacky morning DJ to organize a "Dave Matthews Dump?" The band literally took a shit on the city, I think we need to get our revenge. One more thing... Did you see this week's Liar's Club ad in the Reader?? May be one of their best slogans to date: Liar's Club, "Drowning in a sea of Dave Matthews' Poop" for more info on the Liar's Club, check out www.liarsclub.com

Friday, August 27, 2004

Another Chicago club closing

Not long after I made the post about the Fireside's demise as a music venue, I received word that another Chicago club is closing, Big Wig. While this certainly will have less of an impact on the local scene than the closing of the Fireside, Big Wig did pull in some good DJs and had some great theme nights. Their most notable (or should I say notorious?) night was probably the long rein of drum n' bass Wednesday nights from the "Bass by the Pound" DJ collective. According to their website, Big Wig is closing to "reinvent itself," but unlike the Fireside, they are going to go out with a bang. Starting next Wednesday, Sep. 1st, they are going to be having five nights of parties to celebrate the club's four years of night club debauchery. According to the story on Gapers Block, each night will feature an all-star DJ line-up and a raffle of the club's decorations -- including the hairdryer lamps and even the neon sign. (hmmm...I always did like that sign...) Big Wig is located at 1551 West Division, near the corners of Ashland, Milwaukee and Division. Go to www.bigwignightclub.net for more info and to check out the complete line-up of DJs scheduled to play the 5-night closing celebration. (but watch out for the cheesy music, the mute button was hard to find) Any other clubs closing?? Or have any other hot new tips from the local music scene? Drop us a line anytime at rfceditor@hotmail.com

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Screw you punks...Let's Bowl!

As you may have heard already, the Fireside Bowl unceremoniously held its show last Saturday and will be returning to its original status as a full-time bowling facility. I actually received word of this Monday morning via email and I think I read about it in the Sun-Times later that day. Picking up this week's copy of the Reader, I read another blurb about the Fireside's closing as a music club. Then it dawned on me...a Chicago music landmark for 10 years is ceasing operations and I've yet to write about it for Radio Free Chicago... Doh! So did I just flake out because of its rather inconspicuous closing? I have been popping a lot of cold medicine lately...maybe I should use that as an excuse? Actually, the real truth is that I just really didn't care. I read that email Monday morning...shrugged to myself, "oh well," and continued on with my usual business. While I always did like the Fireside's gritty charm and its cheap drinks, it was an awful place to see a show. The PA was always obnoxiously loud and the sound quality was terrible. Audience space was cramped and the lighting was brutal. Most of all, I didn't like the bands that usually played there...shitty indie-rawk bands and annoying ska-punk emo dorks. Of course, these are the things that made a Fireside a legendary venue, famous throughout the Midwest and beyond. In addition to the ghetto-mystique of the place, it also was the one venue that always held all-ages shows. While teens in most cities have to resort hanging out at the mall or the corner 7-11, Chicago-area minors actually had a hip place to hang out and see their favorite punk bands. However, Fireside owner Jim Lapinski didn't exactly see the charm in running an oasis for Chicago's young punks and indie-rockers. "The kids destroyed the place," said Lapinski in an article for Metromix.com. According to the article, Lapinski wants to resurrect the Fireside as a legitimate bowling alley again because apparently the sport has become popular again. However, the real reason seems to be that "a recent spate of bowling alley closures in Chicago has opened up an opportunity to snap up their used equipment and draw some of their established leagues." Sorry underage music fans, you've lost your favorite venue because some old guy was able to salvage some old pins and ball lifts for his run-down alley. OK, that was a bit harsh...and who am I to talk? I didn't even like the shows there?? Anyway... Life goes on in the Chicago music scene for the 21 and over crowd, but this certainly puts a dent in the scene for the youngsters. However, it seems like cities as large as Chicago are usually able to bounce back from venue closings as other joints pick up the slack or new ones pop up. Remember how much it sucked that Lounge Ax was closing? While the space was irreplaceable, the Empty Bottle quickly picked up the slack and became the preeminent underground club in the city. (a great little space, amazing talent booking and $1 beers available everyday...the Bottle almost makes me say, "Lounge who??...what was that place called?") As long as the Fireside doesn't raise the prices at their bar, I'm not complaining. Hell, I might even stop by sometime to bowl a few frames. However, for the sake of Chicago music scene, hopefully someone will soon start a new place where the future indie-rockers of the world can hang out and hone their musical chops. (What are your thoughts about the closing?? Post your comments and feel free to share your favorite stories about hanging out at the 'Bowl)

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

No static at all...FM Reception Tips

While almost every major metropolis or college town has some sort of radio alternative to the corporate behemoths on the dial, unfortunately the independent progressive stations tend to almost always have the weakest signals that are the hardest to find. Chicago is certainly no exception to this rule...all of the commercial stations have full-power transmitters on top the Sears Tower or the Hancock, while all of the non-profit, independent community stations are relegated to a power of 100-watts or less,* with antennas usually rigged atop some college campus building. However, with minimal effort and investment you should be able be able pick up the hidden gems on the dial just as good as the corporate loud mouths. Step 1 : Are you plugged in?? This seems like common sense, but it amazes me how many people actually don't have an antenna plugged into their stereo at home. While most hand-held transistors and portable boom-boxes have telescoping antennas built in, you almost always have to install the antenna on mini-component systems and stand-alone stereo receivers. Sure, you can pick up "B96" right now, but without plugging in an antenna to your stereo, you probably won't be able to pick up the low-power stations at the left of the dial (aka, the good shit). Check the back of your system and see if you have wires coming out of the holes marked "antenna." If it's too dark, cramped, or just plain scary back there to look too closely, look for a little, useless-looking white string that is probably dangling on the floor. This little white wire actually serves as an FM antenna, and if you live anywhere within the city limits, it should do the trick. If you don't see one, dig in your closets to find your stereo's original box or owner's manual packet...almost any decent stereo will come with one. (a little black oval antenna is also usually included, but this antenna is used to pick up AM signals) Step 2: Experiment with antenna placement FM signals are highly directional in general, and with all of the endless interference possibilities in the city (tall buildings, towers, power lines, etc), reception of weak signals can be very unpredictable. Theoretically, you would want to have your antenna extending as high as possible and, ideally, next to a window. Nonetheless, sometimes just throwing a wire antenna in a heap on the floor will give you just as good of reception. You've just got to experiment with putting the antenna at different spots on the wall or on the floor. Results will vary from building to building, room to room and, in extreme cases, day to day. Step 3: Take a trip to Radio Shack If you can't find an antenna for your stereo at home, or the little wire coming out the back just isn't doing the trick, it's time to make the trek to your local Radio Shack. As much as a hate this store (no you can't have my address...i just want some damn batteries!), it's almost always the best place to go for any sort of cheap wiring needs. Here's yet another example, as for the low- low price of $4.29 you can pick up an antenna that will give you good reception in just about any environment. It's called an "FM dipole antenna" and essentially it's just a long wire that splits into two. (click here, if you're to allergic to annoying Radio Shack clerks) I've lived both in the boonies (30 to 40 miles to the next major town) and in the city, and dipole antennas seem to always work the best for picking up both local and distant signals. However, they're extremely directional and you'll want to experiment a bit (see Step 2) to get the best overall reception. Or...if you're willing to spend a little more cash and don't feel like experimenting with even more wires on the back of your stereo, you can pick up a powered indoor antenna. These range in price from $10-$100 (check out the "Terk" brand of antennas at Amazon.com) and will give you a bit more signal boost depending on how much you want to spend. I've never tried any of them myself, but it may be worth the investment if you're on the extreme fringe of a station's broadcast range and nothing else seems to work. Step 4: If all else fails... When it comes to picking up low-power FM signals, sometimes you'll get just as good of results from that old K-Mart blue-light special radio with foil keeping the antenna in place as you will from a $200 stereo receiver. However, generally a more expense receiver or radio will yield better reception results. While I don't think any Chicago station provides programming unique enough to warrant a serious upgrade to your audio equipment, you may want to keep this in mind if you're a dedicated radio listener and you're in the market to upgrade your sound system. If you're on a budget, don't forget to check out eBay for affordable vintage stereo system upgrades. Some of those cheap old receivers from the 70's seem to get better reception than a lot of the new receivers that cost hundreds of dollars. Good luck with your antenna hunting and configurations....but remember to be realistic in your expectations. A typical 100-watt community station will only have about a 10-15 mile broadcast range...So, even if you buy a $100 powered antenna, you're still not go to be able to pick up "The Pride of the Southside" (WHPK) in Evanston. However, if you live in Wicker Park, a properly adjusted antenna should allow you to pick up WLUW's signal from Roger's Park. --- *WNUR-FM is the one exception...they broadcast at 7,000 watts. However, that figure is a bit deceptive because they have an antenna height of only 100 feet, which is very low for an FM station. Without getting into the technical details and FCC regulations, the height of an FM station's broadcast antenna is just as vital as its overall wattage...so unfortuantely WNUR's 89.3 signal has a bit more bark than it does bite.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

The Wizard celebrates 30th at the Abbey

WZRD-FM (88.3), better known as "The Wizard," is celebrating its 30th anniversary on the air this year, and to celebrate they're hosting a night of live music at the Abbey Pub this Friday night (8/20). Scheduled acts include Hrvatski,Seel,Environmental Encroachment,Secret Agent Bill and noise rockers No Doctors as the headliners. Doors open at 7pm, show starts at 8 $8.00 advance, $10 day of show Abbey Pub 3420 W. Grace Chicago, IL The Wizard may be one the North Side's best kept secrets and it is really the only true free-form station in the city. While all of the other community stations in the city do "block" formats that designate certain formats for specific time slots (ie. WNUR has the Jazz Show, the Rock Show, Street Beat, etc.) , WZRD is all free-form, all the time...and has been for 30 years. You can hear just about anything no matter what time or day that you tune in. It's also the most ego-free station in the city as no DJ is allowed to name their show or even use their real name on the air...the current DJ on the air is simply known as a "Wizard." Finally, 88.3 is the only place on the North Side (and one of only 3 stations in the state) where you can hear the critically-aclaimed news program, "Democracy Now!" (heard M-F 7-9a on WZRD) WZRD's no frills and no ego approach to radio is what still makes it "a best kept secret," even after 30 years on the air. However, that's exactly how the station's founders wanted it, and that's what makes 88.3 such a refreshing spot on today's overly crowded and overly hyped radio dial.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Local Artists and Venues join forces to Rock the Vote

A collective of Chicago musicians, promoters and the city's top clubs and record stores have joined together to organize the Interchange Festival, a series of concerts intended to raise political awareness among the city's independent music community and its fans, register voters, and contribute money and volunteers to ongoing voter-registration efforts in the Chicago area. Kicking off the 5-day festival Wednesday night at the Hideout will be local post-rock heroes Tortoise along with up and coming Chicago MC, Diverse. This show will actually take place outside of the Hideout and will be an all-ages show. Tickets will not be pre-sold, but you will be asked to make a suggested donation at the gate. Other highlights include Andrew Bird and the Vandermark 5 Thursday night at Schuba's and Sage Francis headlining Saturday night at Metro. For all the specific dates, times and complete show line-ups, check out the Interchange Festival website at: www.interchange2004.org.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Final thoughts on "Nine FM"

I have to admit, when I heard there would be a new station that promised to "play anything," part of me naively hoped that it would have the variety of college radio combined with the slick production of commercial rock. I was hoping to hear sets that had Fuguzi following Fleetwood Mac or Big Daddy Kane following a set of the Beatles, Beastie Boys and Bjork. More realistically, however, I was hoping "Nine FM" would be a bit more like old school XRT...less commercials, a wider playlist and more cutting-edge new releases. (or ideally like the old "99 Plus" KFMH-FM out of Muscatine/Davenport, IA...anybody from Iowa remember that one??) The reality, unfortunately, is that "Nine FM" really doesn't sound vastly different than any other commercial Chicago station. It basically just sounds as if you're hitting the seek button in the car...a few songs from XRT, a few from The Drive, The Loop, The Mix, etc. Except, of course, "Nine" does the work for you and puts them all on one frequency. It sounds like a great idea, but when listening for an extended period of time, it can be rather frustrating. For example, just as soon as you start enjoying a good classic rock set, they throw in something like "Shoop" by Salt n' Peppa. Rather than sounding like a fully-stocked iPod with thousands of great songs, the end result of listening to Nine is more like having an annoying sibling constantly changing channels in the passenger seat. Even with hip new tracks from Franz Ferdinand, The Darkness, The Postal Service, Snow Patrol and The Hives thrown into mix, I still can't seem to listen to Nine for more than one or two songs. I think the concept of "we play anything" can work, but they need to work on the flow better. For example, why not play a full 30 minute block of one genre and then segue to a 30 minute block of something else...rather than trying to squeeze in 5 different genres or sounds in a 15-minute set? I'm sure the answer has something to do with ratings or research, but hey, the whole concept of Nine is that they're throwing out all of the typical commercial radio rules, right? Despite my less than stellar first impression...I still really want to like "Nine" (maybe it will get better??) and hope that it becomes a success in the market. You've got to respect their "no rules" approach and the fact that they're trying to do something different on the commercial airwaves. I also really like their on-air line-up (well, except for that morning guy). Sky Daniels is great in the afternoons and it's nice to hear Johnny Mars (formerly 'XRT) back on the air, as the night host on "Nine." So check out 99.9FM yourself and let me know what you think... I don't think it will be the "savior" of Chicago radio, but it will might make a nice addition to the car stereo presets of suburban commuters.

Friday, August 13, 2004

"Nine FM" Test Drive, Part 2

Wednesday, 8/11/04 2:00pm Well...I wasn't too impressed with "Nine" during the morning hours, but I was optimistic because afternoons belong to the program director, Sky Daniels. I have listened to "Nine" a few times before today's test drive, and it seemed like he "brought the rock" more during his shift than when I've listened at other times. 2:10pm "When I Come Around" by Green Day..."Talk Dirty to Me" by Poison..."Who Can it Be Now" by Men Without Hats... I'll forget the fact that I heard Green Day and Poison...but you've got to love Men At Work 2:30pm "All-Star" by Smash Mouth Who likes this song, besides 8 year olds?? 2:35pm Some song by Staind comes on... OK, I sat through the damn "All-Star" song...now this is just too much. 2:36pm Abort mission... Sky wasn't on the air yet anyway, so I decided to take a break and check back in after 3 3:00pm Can barely pick up a signal...a bird must be sitting on their tower on their tower or something. (actually, more like some clouds or poor atmospheric conditions...I am listening in the South Loop after all, the extreme northern fringe of their broadcast range) 3:20pm Suddenly the reception's fine again...maybe it really was a bird on the tower?? 3:23 -3:34pm "In the Name of Love" by U2..."Hate to Say I Told You So" by The Hives..."Something So Strong" by Crowded House Not bad...not bad...maybe Sky can get a good set going for a while??? 3:35pm Second song of the day by Barenaked Ladies Doh!!! 3:38pm "Go Insane" by Lindsay Buckingham Take out the Barenaked Ladies and this actually isn't a bad set... 3:48pm Instrumental song by guitar hero Joe Satriani Umm...at least it's different?? 4:00pm "Don't Know Why" by Nora Jones I'm really starting to lose interest at this point... 4:08pm "Crazy Train" by Ozzy Osbourne Raaawwwk! I haven't been this stoked to hear Ozzy since I was twelve...the standard adult contemporary fare that Nine plays really puts me to sleep 4:13-4:30pm My indifference toward Nine is getting worse...I'm starting to slack off on taking notes and I'm not keeping up with the music log 4:34pm "Celebration" by Kool in the Gang C'mon..."Celebration???" is it not enough that you have to hear this song at every god damn wedding reception throughout your entire life?? I didn't want to say it...but much like your cousin's wedding reception, this station is sooooo suburban 4:37-4:45pm "Celebration" is followed by songs from Matchbox 20, Collective Soul Yes, I am in suburban hell...who wants to go the strip mall? 4:56pm Whoa!!! I think I just heard the first commercial of the day??? I hadn't even noticed...but this is the first break I've heard since tuning in at 8:30 in the morning! 5:05pm "Bandages" by Hot Hot Heat..."Round and Round" by Ratt Alright...after 5, it's the drive home...this is going to be the one...the set that rocks for like an hour without interruption... 5:12pm "Tears in Heaven" by Eric Clapton Nooooooooooo!!!!! DAMMIT! This station is just like 'XRT...they play two or three really great old tunes, (like some great deep album cuts or a few old college radio favorites) then just when you think they've got their act together and they've finally thrown out all of their lite rock Jewel and Sheryl Crow records out onto Belmont Ave.... BAM!! they drop in some lame-ass, board-room approved lite rock rubbish. Wait a minute...come to think of it, both XRT and Nine are just like...the Cubs!. You really want to like them, they have a lot of potential and they even show glimpses of brilliance at times. But then just as soon as you get hyped up because things are going great...well, you know the story. Nothing but disappointment in the end. Come to think of it...XRT does always hype the Cubs, and Nine's vice president used to work for XRT... hmmm... Coming up Monday on RFC, the final word on "Nine FM"

Thursday, August 12, 2004

"Nine FM" Test Drive, Part 1

So you've read all the press and speculation on this new "Nine FM," but most imporantly... How does it sound? While I have caught snippets here and there of the new "Nine FM," I've never really listened to the station for an extended period of time. I really want to like it, but I haven't heard enough to make a real judgment yet. So what better way to evaluate the new station than to lock my radio at 99.9 and listen to it for an entire day? Yesterday I pointed my antenna toward to the heavens, grabbed a note pad and pen, and proceeded to make "Nine FM" my only music source for the entire day. Here's how it went... Wednesday, 8/11/04 8:30am Arrive at work, tune radio to 99.9fm...first song, "I Did It" by Dave Matthews. God damn I hate Dave Matthews Band!!...I hope this isn't a sign of things to come. 8:34am DJ comes on and goes into some entertainment news shtick. I try to tune him out, but he's so damn cheesy...sounds like someone is trying to imitate a cheesy morning jock, only this guy is serious. 8:35 -9:00am A blockbuster set of music consisting of Sugar Ray, Journey, Mike+The Mechanics(are you kidding me?!?) and Janet Jackson. This whole "listen to Nine all day" thing is starting to seem like a really bad idea...like a painfully bad idea. 9:04am REO Speedwagon comes on...that "heard it from a friend who, heard from a friend who..." song. That's it!! I can't take it anymore... 9:04-10:00am Abort mission, tune into WHPK. 10:00am OK, OK...i'll give Nine FM another shot... 10:01am "Bruuuuuuuuuuuce!!" Alright, "Born to Run" by Springsteen, hopefully things will get better now 10:05-10:25am Iggy Pop ("Lust of Life" of course!), Curtis Mayfield ("Superfly"), old school U2, Smashing Pumpkins (yes Billy, despite all my rage, I too am still just a rat in a cage), and "Band on the Run" by McCartney. Yeah, Paul is lame (the sound you make is Muzak to ears!!) and the Pumpkins have been played into the ground by XRT and Q-101, but I have to admit I didn't completely hate that set. Maybe we're finally getting somewhere here... 10:30-10:40am What the fuck is this shit??? Some unbelievably sappy song is played, followed by an equally lame tune that seems to have been borrowed from the country station. Next song..."Shoop" by Salt n' Peppa. 10:45am Red Hot Chili Peppers follows Salt n' Peppa Hey, these Nine FM jocks are clever! (hint of sarcasm there) Actually, the current jock sounds alright, a 100% improvement over the "wacky" morning guy. 10:48am "Oh Sherry" by Steve Perry What the hell?? Didn't they just play a Journey track last hour?? 10:53am Sappy as hell, 80's schlock from Cetera-era Chicago Uggghhh! 10:57-11:05am Cars, "She's a lot like You"...Nena, "99 Luftbaloons" Woo-hoo! Finally some songs I actually want to crank up! 11:05am That god-damn Barenaked Ladies song with the "Chinese Chicken" rap is played Oh jesus, here we go again with the shitty tunes... 11:10am-1:00pm I did manage to make it to my lunch hour without having any emergency “REO Speedwagon” situations that made me want to throw my radio out the window. However, at this point I'm not exactly ready to super glue my dial to 99.9. There was a decent set that featured current buzz bin dudes Franz Ferdinand, followed by the Stones' "Midnight Rambler" and that "Betty Davis Eyes" song. Other highlights included the new Darkness single, "You're Really Growing on Me," "Don't Fear the Reaper" by Blue Oyster Cult (sorry, I'm not looking up how to make umlauts in HTML) and "Sunglasses at Night" by Corey Heart (80's one-hit wonders rawk!!). However, the amount of bad songs overshadowed the good stuff by quite a bit. Everclear, Fuel, Sting, and the lite-rock, 90's version of Eric Clapton...c'mon who likes this stuff??? OK, OK... dentists and soccer moms don't count... Stay tuned tomorrow on RFC for part 2 of the "Nine FM" test drive

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The 411 on "Nine"

So is this new "Nine FM" going to be a success? Here's the scouting report... Positives: Local Ownership Nine FM (99.9) is owned by the Chicago-based company, Newsweb. They own a handful of small AM stations in and around the city, but they are probably best known for being the previous owners of WPWR-TV, Channel 50. Local ownership of commercial radio stations is almost unheard of these days, (damn you Telecom Act of 1996!!) so this is definitely a positive for Nine FM. Experienced Management Leading the launch of the new Nine FM is Newsweb Vice President Harvey Wells. Prior to joining Newsweb earlier this year, Wells spent 25 years at the legendary WXRT and served as general manager of the station since 1990. Nine FM's program director is Sky Daniels, also an industry veteran. Daniels is best known around these parts for his work as a jock at The Loop during its hard rockin' heyday in the early 80's. Having experienced and talented management is a huge benefit for this station and it also demonstrates that the parent company is backing the station for the long haul. It should also keep Nine FM from succumbing to the growing pains and the botched deals that plagued Air America during its first month. Negatives: Location, Location, Location Some of you may be a bit confused about 99.9FM because you've either never heard of it or you've never ran across it while scanning on your car radio. That's because Nine FM isn't really a Chicago station. It's actually a station that used to be based out of Kankakee, (formerly known known as "The Bus") and the transmitter is still located a few miles north of there. However, it is a full-power, 50,000 watt station, so it does blast its signal well into the burbs and even into far southern parts of the city. "So why don't they just move it to the top of the Sears Tower or somewhere closer to the city?" Ha, ha...good one! Ask anyone that owns a suburban station that question and they'll have a good laugh. Current FCC regulations make it virtually impossible for any more stations to move into Chicago. In other words, all of the slots on the dial are full and no one is leaving anytime soon. In order for Nine FM to have a full-signal across all of the city and suburbs, Newsweb would have to buy out an existing station and take over its programming. The cost of acquiring a full-powered city signal would be anywhere from $50-$150 million, (maybe even more?) so that's probably not going to happen anytime soon. The bottom line here is that the more people a station brings in, the more money it makes. The city is where the most people are...and most importantly, where all the money is. Nine FM, with its far south suburban signal, probably covers more corn acreage than it does metropolitan square blocks, so its money-making potential is a bit limited. Will Newsweb be able to make any money on their recent acquisition? Or, more realistically, will they be able to keep their losses low enough in order to keep Nine FM around long enough for it to gain a significant following? Of course, only time will tell... But no matter how solid your management is or how well the business plan is executed, the most important thing is whether people like your station and want to listen to it everyday... Tomorrow on RFC, we take "Nine FM' for a test drive and see if the music and programming lives up to the hype.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

WLUW's Pledge Drive...fun or fraud?

If you're a WLUW listener, you probably already know by now that the station kicks off its second pledge drive of the year on August 9. However, do you know exactly where your money is going? Would you believe that out of an annual budget of around $150k, only about 20% of that community supported figure goes towards actual operating expenses? Here's a rough percentage estimate of how WLUW utilizes its donations: Programming: <1% All of WLUW's local programming is produced entirely by volunteers at no cost to the station. DJs and hosts do not receive any money to fund their programs. All of the syndicated shows that the station airs, such as Free Speech Radio News” and “Radio Nation,” are available for free via satellite or on the web. Some programs are even mailed to the station for free on pre-recorded CDs. Music: <1% WLUW’s music library consists of promotional CDs sent to the station for free by record labels and promotion companies. Additional music for the library is provided to the station at no cost via underwriting trade agreements with local record stores. Finally, many volunteers supply their own music by bringing in records and CDs from their own collections. Equipment: <1% Per terms of the recent management agreement with Loyola and WBEZ, new equipment costs do not come out of the listener supported budget. WBEZ picks up the tab on any new equipment that WLUW needs. For example, recent computer and CD player upgrades at WLUW came courtesy of WBEZ. Also per the recent agreement, WLUW’s broadcast license, its studio space and transmitter facilities are still owned and maintained by Loyola University. Payroll: 80% The majority of the listener-supported budget actually goes toward keeping WLUW’s general manager and program director employed on a full-time basis. According to a copy of the WLUW budget from December '03, the salary line read $105,000, with related taxes and benefits adding about another $15, 000. (the total salary line also includes compensation for a consultant who helps out during the station's pledge drive efforts) Misc. other expenses: 20% Equipment maintenance, promotional items, phone bills, office supplies, etc, etc. It would seem that operational and programming expenditures should be at least equal to (and more likely greater than) than the station’s payroll expenses. However, this clearly is not the case with WLUW. Obviously any organization has to have someone in charge to keep everything running smoothly, and such person should be compensated a fair wage for their efforts. However, while its two managers are getting a fair wage, are the listeners and donors of WLUW getting a fair amount of return for their efforts? Using the guidelines set by Charity Navigator.org, “America’s largest charity evaluator,” the answer to this question would be a resounding, “No.” Performance Category 3: Program Expenses "Charities exist to provide programs and services. They fulfill the expectations of givers when they allocate most of their budgets to providing programs. Charities fail givers expectations when their spending on programs is insufficient." Performance Category 4: Administration Expenses "As with successful organizations in any sector, effective charities must recruit, develop, and retain talented people. At the same time, they ensure that these administration and management expenses remain reasonable and in line with the organization's overall expenses." www.charitynavigator.org So before you hand over your credit card to get your official WLUW pledge drive tote bag or t-shirt, call the station first to obtain a copy of the budget and its annual expense report. Investigate the figures and make a judgment for yourself about whether the station is properly utilizing your monetary support. As a publicly funded institution, the power of WLUW is really in the hands of its supporters. Therefore, as a listener, and especially a donor, you have the power to ensure that the station is properly serving the interests of the community that you are a part of. If you are satisfied with how the station operates, keep your monetary and volunteer support coming in during fundraising efforts. If you are not satisfied, express how you think things could be improved and hold back your support until the station can demonstrate that it is, in fact, working to serve you better. Regardless of what judgment you reach about WLUW and its fundraising efforts, make sure you get all of the facts first and don’t be afraid to let your voice be heard. Ensure that the management of WLUW and WBEZ are putting the “community” first at “Independent Community Radio.” Contacts: Craig Kois – WLUW General Manger, 773.508.8071 Shawn Campbel – WLUW Program Director, 773.508.8072 Torey Malatia - WBEZ General Manager, 312.948.4612

WHPK returns to the air with a new 100-watt blowtorch

After a brief hiatus, the editors at RFC central are very happy to have WHPK-FM (88.5) back on the radio this week. "The Pride of South Side" had to cease broadcasts for a couple of days last week in order to install a brand new antenna, which will bring listeners a stronger, more reliable signal. For those who don't reside on the south side, or who may have not tuned into 88.5 before, WHPK-FM is a community radio station based out of the University of Chicago in Hyde Park. The station features a diverse line-up of music and public affairs programming similar to its north side bretheren, WZRD and WLUW. Music programming is done in block form, with slots for rock, jazz, classical, international, folk, rap and electronic music. Music show highlights include: Come All Ye Coal Miners - Old Time, traditional, and hillbilly music. Wed 5-6p Ultrasound - A tasty blend of glictchy electronic music. Mon 6-9a Radio Zero - J. and Mike play the best in Transgressive Pop and Gestalt Rock. Thu 9a- 12p Pure Hype - WHPK’s live rock and roll show featuring live bands from the Chicago area and beyond. Fri 9p-12:30a Sitting in the Park - Bob plays rare group harmony and classic Chicago soul and doowop from the 1950s-70s. Sun 7:30p-8:30p The Evil Show - Dave Waldman plays some of the purest blues sounds of the century from the early days of recording up through today. Mon 9p-12a Locally produced public affairs programming airs every weekday from 3-4pm, with a line-up just as diverse as its music shows. Public affairs show highlights include: The Bad Mutha Film Show - Host Sergio Mims has spent the last 25 years on the front lines of Black cinema and he and his guests (filmmakers, scholars and fans) analyze, criticize and gossip about the state of African Americans in mainstream and underground film today. Mon 3-4p (alternates with Roctober Radio) Roctober Radio - Roctober magazine publisher Jake Austen presents an audio supplement to the journal of in depth exploration of unjustly obscure pop culture greats. Mon 3-4p (alternates with The Bad Mutha Film Show) News From the Service Entrance - A personal favorite, host Mario hits the airwaves with news from the frontline, music from the WHPK library, and interviews with the famous and infamous, nationally known celebrities and local legends. Not your typical local public affairs snoozefest. Thu 1:30-4p Unfortunately, WHPK does not offer any webstreaming, so if you don't live within about an 8-10 mile radius of Hyde Park, you're out of luck in trying to listen to "The Pride of the South Side." However, if you're going to be in the neighborhood, definitely set your dial to 88.5 to hear some of the most diverse music and public affairs programming that Chicago has to offer.

Monday, August 02, 2004

RFC rises from the ashes...

After a brief hiatus, Radio Free Chicago is back...on the web. For the uninitated, Radio Free Chicago (RFC) was a local radio show created, produced and hosted by Jed James on Loyola's community radio station, WLUW-FM (88.7). For six years, Jed and a rotating cast of co-hosts brought listeners music, interviews and news from the local music scene. Now RFC has returned in a brand new, internet-only incarnation. While there will still be reports on local releases and shows coming to the area, RFC will now be focusing its editorial efforts on another aspect essential to the local music scene...radio. Despite threats from all sorts of new technology, radio continues to be a powerful and influential tool in breaking new songs and artists. Therefore, RFC will be taking a look at the stations, DJs and programmers who are making a difference in the local scene (as well those who give this town a bad name). And, as you would expect from RFC, there will be a strong focus on the adventurous and independent spots on the dial.