One of my most eagerly anticipated radio station tours this year was to see ARTxFM in Louisville, Kentucky. I’ve been friends with its founder, Sharon Scott, for several years and have been closely monitoring the station’s progress as a streaming radio station (it launched in 2012). In October 2014, ARTxFM was granted a construction permit for a new low power FM (LPFM) radio station and hopes to be on terrestrial radio soon (the station need to be on air by April, 2016).
Focused on the intersection between art and radio, ARTxFM is different from most radio stations in that it has deep connections with the local art community. During my visit to Louisville in February I was struck by the thriving art scene, with its wide array of local music festivals, arts organizations, and museums.
The ARTxFM website offers up a mission statement of sorts, speaking to its arts emphasis:
Committed to providing artists and community members access to the airwaves for creative and experimental use, ARTxFM employs sound, music, and conversation to explore the hidden properties of audio broadcasting. Sculpting with frequency that is delivered in watts, ARTxFM amplifies contemporary art ideas and broadcasts international creative dialog.
Our definition of artist is broad. It includes painters, performers, writers, athletes, filmmakers, philosophers, scientists, and more — the trained and untrained, the local and the superstar. ARTxFM functions with the belief that the greatest forms of art, like the greatest forms of democracy, flourish within the free and unfettered exchange of ideas.”
While in Louisville for the International Association of Popular Music (IASPM) conference, I took a break one day and snuck away to see ARTxFM with Scott. It was a bitterly cold day on Friday, February 20 and Scott’s son was home from school on his 5th snow day for the week. He and a friend tagged along as we drove to the station in Louisville’s growing arts neighborhood of NuLu (aka New Louisville). When we arrived, I was surprised to see snow-covered grape vines in front of the station’s building. Scott explained that the owners of the building have vineyards (Felice Vineyards) and make wine.
After walking past the small vineyard, we entered the building that houses ARTxFM. The station has an open feel to it, with a large lobby, a couch, some desks, and a record library. The studio is carved out of one section of the space, with windows bordering the adjacent tenant. For sound dampening, curtains are positioned on poles surrounding the studio space. At the time of the my visit the space next door was empty, but Scott told me that a restaurant used to be there. Other building tenants include an architecture firm as well as private residences.
ARTxFM’s terrestrial call letters will be WXOX-LP (in a fascinating coincidence, WXOX was the name of a fictional college radio station in the movie A Matter of Degrees) and the station has embraced the association with love and heart-themed swag. I visited right after Valentine’s Day and the station had plenty of red, pink, and heart-emblazoned items on display, including heart-shaped key chains, Valentines, balloons, and membership cards with a Valentine-theme.
Although it had been a tough week of snow days, with many DJs missing their shifts due to the weather, we arrived at the station just in time to see a bit of the Louisville Visual Art Association‘s show PUBLIC (it runs on Fridays from noon to 1pm). It was a nice surprise to see a live show, especially since Scott had been fielding calls from snowed-in DJs throughout my visit to Louisville.
Generally there are live programs on ARTxFM from 8am to 2am every day, with some programmers sticking around into the graveyard shift hours. There are around 125 DJs/show hosts at ARTxFM and Scott told me that she’s been “blown away” by the work of all of the volunteers at the station. She added that it’s been gratifying to see all of the on-air guests as well, telling me that she feels like the station has helped to create community within the various art and music scenes in town. The importance of the local art scene is apparent as one looks around the station, as there are posters and flyers for an array of Louisville events.
Scott said that a few bands and arts projects have arisen from connections made at ARTxFM, including international collaborations like SoundCamp’s 24-hour REVEIL broadcast for which ARTxFM provided a live recording from Derby Day. The event aired sounds of sunrise from all over the world, with the 24-hour broadcast following the sunrise.
I was excited to see that ARTxFM has a music library at the station, which includes vinyl, CDs, and cassettes. There’s a bin of local music inside the studio and a larger music library in the lobby. Scott said that DJs do play physical music and she told me that they’ve even had some all-tape programs. She mentioned that there are definitely some DJs who prefer playing vinyl, whereas others do their shows using 100% digital music played from iPhones or computers. A good percentage of DJs are somewhere in-between, playing a variety of music from various sources.
When there isn’t a live DJ during the late night hours, ARTxFM airs a mix of instrumental and foreign language music overnight. Music shows are typically 2 hours in length and talk shows run for one hour. Scott explained that the station plays an incredibly broad range of music, with hosts who specialize in vintage recordings (including Alan Lomax Archive curator Nathan Salsburg, who does the “Root Hog or Die” show, which got its start on East Village Radio), Japanese experimental music, Spanish-language music, classical music, hip hop, Russian and Eastern European music, the blues, and reggae.
Local high school students also intern at the station and produce a show as part of their work in the journalism and communications program at school. Additionally, the Squallis Puppeteers do the Sunday morning kids show, “Art is for Everyone.”
In keeping with its focus on the arts, ARTxFM runs at least one art-themed talk show on weekdays at some point during the 10am until noon block of programming. Various arts organizations, including museums, host some of these shows. A few of the art-themed shows across the ARTxFM schedule include a film talk show (Film Fatale), a contemporary art program called “Audio Art 101” as well as “The Medium is Sound,” which does sound experimentation and brings in sound artists for live performances.
Scott explained that, “Artists haven’t had access to the airwaves” traditionally and told me, “That’s basically the idea behind ARTxFM.” As part of the station’s mission, she said that they encourage DJs to not only think about the medium of radio, but also to work on “pushing the medium.”
Thanks so much to Sharon Scott for sharing not only ARTxFM with me, but also for touring me around Louisville and beyond (we went on some radio station road trips together). This is my 83rd station tour report. I have one more Kentucky field trip to go, as well as a few visits to stations in D.C., Virginia, and California. See my most recent field trips on Radio Survivor and see all of my station field trips on Spinning Indie.
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