Old school radio meets new, and it works
(March 20, 2008) Greece, N.Y. – Spin the radio dial around, away from the three-digit station numbers on the right, and you’ll land on one of the last vestiges of old-time radio, back when disc jockeys were local and callers could actually talk to the person spinning records.
WGMC-FM (90.1), or Jazz 90.1, has pieces of radio’s golden age – back before consolidation and conglomeration and syndicated morning shows took over – all around its studio inside Greece Olympia High School.
Sure, computers and multi-disc stereos are used to play the songs. The station is even broadcast over the Internet. But next to the alphabetized rows of 15,000 CDs, a few shelves are devoted to albums and even a couple turntables left to play them. The record players get a ton of questions from the kids who come in for a tour, said station manager Rob Linton.
One thing this small station and its bigger counterparts share is the need for money. But where the big guns thrive on advertising, WGMC stays in operation because of donations from true fans of the jazz and ethnic music the station broadcasts.
And from those who just like to listen to a familiar voice.
Tune in and you’ll hear John Coltrane and Ella Fitzgerald and all the other greats along with new music from new artists. But Linton said what really sets it apart from other stations is the people: Real people who tell listeners what the weather is like in Rochester, take requests and talk live.
The lack of a tape delay has led to a couple goofs, but nothing too serious, Linton said. Mostly you might hear a program host ramble on a bit or mispronounce a name. But listeners love it because it means the hosts are human, he said.
“That kind of personal radio is non-existent,” Linton said.
Though its programs include polka, German songs, Lithuanian-language programs and other kinds of music, it always comes back to jazz.
“We’re actually one of the last full-time jazz stations in the country. We’re one of 10,” said Linton, 28.
The station, which turns 35 this fall, only recently has landed in the radar of a wider audience of jazz and radio lovers. It started as a 10-watt station run by students at Greece Athena. After a few years, it moved to Apollo Middle School (the former Cardinal Mooney High School) and operated out of a tiny room that used to be a nun’s kitchen. Its current home is at Greece Olympia and the station is now 15,000 watts.
Lynda Wildman of Greece is glad she found it.
“It’s the best time I’ve had in years,” said Wildman, 54, who volunteers as a DJ.
She hadn’t been a big jazz fan when she started. Neither was Linton, who recalls randomly picking out music and finding pieces he liked when he played them. Since she began volunteering in the summer, though, Wildman has been bitten by the jazz bug.
“I’ve been working my way through the library,” she said.
Phil Dodd, another DJ, loved his time volunteering at Jazz 90.1 so much that he moved a mile down the road so he could be closer. Dodd, 60, remembers his first show 13 years ago. He picked out some songs, pushed the right buttons, and said to himself: “This is great.”
Greece Central used to fund the station but that stopped about 25 years ago. It’s still owned by the district but relies solely on donations, 30 volunteers and four paid staff to keep it going. The operating budget is $185,000, “which is pennies compared to what other radio stations have. But for us, it’s huge,” Linton said.
The station tries to raise between $100,00 to $140,000 through its two pledge drives every year. This year’s spring pledge drive, which started this week, is going a bit slow, but Linton said it will keep going until $50,000 is raised.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been some notable fundraising going on. During last weekend’s Polka Bandstand Show, hosted by Ray Serafin and Al Meilutis, the station took in nearly $6,000 in a one-hour show. That might be a new record, Linton said. But most of the support comes from small donations, like $5 or $10, rather than large ones, he said.
Linton knows times are tough and that there are plenty of other charities and nonprofits competing for money. What Jazz 90.1 offers, he said, is community. Greece high school students make public service announcements and air them on the radio. Volunteers stuff envelopes, take calls, play music and do everything in between.
Finally, Linton said, the station is getting the respect it deserves. And the community gets to own a little piece of it all.
“And it’s something that they can turn on the radio and say, ‘I had something to do with that,’” he said.
For more information, call (585) 966-2660 or head to www.jazz901.org.
Colleen M. Farrell can be reached at (585) 394-0770 Ext. 265 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.