We sat down with board members Ashley Crownover, Laura Powers, Heather Lose, Jonathan Grigsby, and Roger Blanton, while Pete Wilson and Randy Fox were there in spirit, the small yet mighty group of fine folks at WXNA-LPFM, a brand new radio station blasting out of Nashville on 101.5 FM. It's quickly become our favorite station, and the only thing we listen to.
WXNA launched just over a month ago after a year-long initiative to get it up and running, so we wanted to meet up with the creators to nerd out about how they got started, where they're going, and how they're going to take over the world. Check out our interview below and reintroduce yourself to the airwaves. Be sure to dial in on your radio stations or listen for free on the TuneIn app or online. Keep up to date with all things WXNA on their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Find the full schedule here!
On The Air
So how did y’all actually get the towers up, I know you were trying to get it in Germantown and then it got moved?
Laura: We did. It ended up that we weren’t going to be able to build on it because of the way construction permits work. You can move your site, but it has to be within a certain radius of your original planned location, so we found this location that was about a half-mile away from our original location and it was even better- like twenty times better.
So what’s the technical? Do you have a company that sets that up for you, how do you do that?
Ashley: We have an engineer.
Are they full-time?
Ashley: No, no no. Everyone is volunteer.
So there’s no paid staff?
Ashley: No. One of the engineers we paid for some early work but there’s no salary or paid staff.
So was the Kickstarter all you needed to get going? What is that covering?
Grigsby: It was just for like day-to-day. It basically bought everything you see- all of this. [Laughter]. Those paper towels - Kickstarter!
Heather: All the equipment in there, including that desk. That desk was our one big splurge because we hired a local artist to do that, so we felt really good that we were taking this money that had been given to us and giving it back to someone in the creative community and then to do a nice piece for us instead of going to Ikea.
DJs Bob and Gina
Laura: We always work with small local businesses when we can.
Grigsby: I think up until then we were fundraising with banners and shirts just trying to make more money, but the Kickstarter really put us forward. We also have equipment at the tower and a production room.
Ashley: Which is really like the production closet.
Is that what that is?
Heather: Yes that’s where we’ll cut like underwriting and PSAs and if people will need to do any sort of drop.
Is it an FCC requirement that you do PSAs?
Laura: No, that was one of our Kickstarter rewards that you make a pledge and then you could record a PSA for a non-profit organization of your choice.
Heather: We’re into PSAs, we want to help. Part of why we’re here isn’t just about the cool music but to be a good citizen of Nashville, the city that we love. Helping other agencies and other non-profits out is pretty cool.
Laura: Yeah, everything from playing local bands to featuring people on a hand-full of talk shows. We really do want to represent and be a place where people can get info and entertainment.
Nashville's next great FM radio station!
What’s your domain here besides the show?
Ashley: What do you call me? I don’t know.
Heather: Mom. You’re like the pied piper of the DJs.
Laura: You’re like a Station Manager.
Ashley: I am like a Station Manager, but I don’t have the decision-making powers like a Station Manager because we operate as a group.
Heather: We’re a hive mind. We’re a democracy.
So what happens if a volunteer DJ just doesn’t show up or gets sick and doesn’t tell someone? Do you handle that?
Ashley: Yeah. they contact me or someone on the program committee would handle the show schedule. But it hasn’t really been a problem. First of all, everyone is really excited. All these DJs are people that are very passionate about their particular genre of music. They know a lot about it, seriously, they’re all a bunch of music nerds. We’re all music nerds in our own way, and so they’re so excited they don’t want to miss their show. They have all this energy and we were surprised by how much there was, it just exploded because all of these people finally had an outlet for that love for music and they could share it in a way that you can’t do- really there’s no other way to do it. You can live DJ which has it’s own magic but there’s nothing like this. They’re all really excited and really great so they always show up.
Yeah, I was wondering since it’s all volunteer, is there one person who’s making sure it’s all running?
Ashley: I’m here during the day, and we’re all connected via our implants that we have.
Heather: It sort-of depends on what needs doing. If it’s a technical thing or a money thing, ya know, it’s Grigsby’s. If somebody writes in and they want underwriting or they’re interested about a sponsorship, Laura and I handle that. If it’s a day-to-day “Oh my gosh I can’t get in the studio”, Ashley handles that. And, so, I think that’s all that allows us- because we have real jobs. We all work real jobs and then we do this sort-of in the morning, on our lunch break, and then after work. So the only way we’d be able to do this is by spreading the work around.
We have the longest running text thread in the history of texts. Literally it’s been going since the beginning.
Everyone changed their plan to be unlimited text. And we like the emoticons. A lot. Especially the radio one.
DJ Paul On The Air.
So do each of y’all have your own show?
Ashley: Yeah, we were all DJs on WRVU, the Vanderbilt station, before and that’s how we got together.
So, that’s how everybody met?
Laura: Yeah, it was an excellent place to meet people who wanted to start a radio station!
Ashley: We didn’t know we were those people, but now we do.
Heather: It was five years ago, yeah, it was 2011. We went On The Air almost exactly five years after to the day that it was shut down.
Laura: We missed by just, I think a couple of days.
Was that a low power station as well?
Heather: No, no, no. It was like 2000 Watts, or something. It was like you could hear it in Kentucky. You lost it just east of Jackson, TN. It was a big ol' station.
Why did it go under?
Ashley: It didn’t. It got sold. Vanderbilt sold the license, it’s now 91.1, the classical station.
Does it cost money to maintain it, the license?
Heather: No, it wasn’t bringing in revenue.
Ashley: We worked really hard to save it. We fought for a couple of years. So, Heather and Sharon I guess-
Heather: Yeah, we put our heads together. Sharon Scott is a woman that lives in Louisville now, but she was very involved with the fight and she called me one day and she said, “Girl”. “Girl,” she said, “The FCC is going to open up a window for applications for low power radio stations and you should go for one for Nashville,” and I was like, “OK! Let’s build a radio station. How the hell do you do that!?”. So, we started having meetings at the Gerst House. Randy and I were at the first one and [Ashley] and Pete were at the second one. It was very early on. So, we just took it step-by-step with the research and, you know, there were some non-profit organizations in America that are advocates for people who want to do this. So, we would go to their website and they’d go, “Oh, here’s a list of equipment that you need,” and we’d go, “Oh, here’s a list of equipment that we need”.
And, then, we were like, “Oh my God, this is a lot of work, we need help,” and, so, that’s where Grigsby and Laura came in.
We would never be here without them. Never. He came in and started taking over the taxes and stuff, because I was doing all that stuff before and I was just like, “No. I’m an artist. I don’t do paperwork.
What’s been the hardest thing to overcome?
Ashley: You mean like building a radio station? Because that was hard.
So, there’s not like one standout thing?
Grigsby: Yeah, technical problems. The Kickstarter was really hard. It was so much work.
How long did the Kickstarter run?
Heather: A month- or 35 days. From September to June was just all a blur, like a rollercoaster. There are a lot of details that you don’t know exist and it’s like you take care of one detail and five others pop-up. Somethings came really easy, like we were looking for a place to be and I always kind of had it in my head that we would be in a place where there were other music entities going around. There would be some kind of synergy. I called up Steve West and said, “Hey, do you guys have any spaces?” and he goes, “Well Thirty Tigers is moving out this week. When do you want to come take a look?” And I was like, "Tomorrow!". So, it’s been this crazy mix of where you get those messages, or you think you do, like, we are supposed to be doing this y’all. And, then, there are times where you get these messages, where it’s just like, “Ok, I am gaining new skills and not killing people”.
Laura: I will say, when some horrible, unsurmounted obstacle presented itself, somebody came in from the side that was like, “Hey, can I help you with that?”. Whenever we were like, “What are we going to do?”. It just seemed like out of the cornfield here came the person we needed to help us. We have had so much help and people have been so willing to help. Volunteers and a lot of the DJs are engineers and they know how to do things and social media, they’ve been incredibly helpful.
Heather: It was just the seven of us for a really long time and so getting the DJs was fantastic because we were like, “Yay, now there’s more!”.
Did that come out of social media or how did you find the DJs?
Heather: There was an application process. An extensive application process. We made it hard on purpose, because, you know, if we’re going to leave you here by yourself with this thing that we built, our baby, you know, we need to know that you can handle technical stuff and that you can think on your feet and that you’re not going to ‘drop our baby’.
If someone is a listener and they want to come and DJ is there still an application process?
Laura: In a few months we’ll re-do the schedule sign-up on our email list - say you want to be a DJ and what happens is I’ll put you on the volunteer list and you’ll get the email when it's time to apply. I think our idea is that we would do it twice a year. There’s still shows that we don’t have, like we don’t have a reggae show, and we don’t have a really good hip-hop show, and a flamenco show, [or] a Sunday gospel show.
What about a live local band show?
Heather: Well, people can come in to any show. [Austin Alexander] is doing a really interesting thing. Every week, the four weeks of the month, he’s doing a different concept every week. So, the first week of every month is a local show [Sound, Mind, & Proxy] and he’s playing some stuff that’s just been, like, blowing my mind. It’s not live, but it’s Friday night in Nashville, TN, so it’s not being slid under the rug. This is, like, 7 o'clock prime time on a Friday night where everyone is out roaming around and he’s playing local music for an hour it’s really great.
Roger: I definitely want to have live bands in the studio.
I was thinking more like at The Basement.
Grigsby: We have a pipe - we have a Batcave. We have a PVC pipe that goes all the way down to The Basement and we’re going to run cords down there, seriously, it was made for that. It stops at Grimey’s, too, so we can hook into Grimey’s.
Have y’all talked to them about doing that?
Heather: Ummm, We’ve had a lot to do. We are being come at from every angle.
It’s exciting, but we’ve got to make sure that our ship is right. This is our priority and we’ll get to everyone else’s priority next and that’s kind of the way we’ve got to approach it - like a business, because it is.
Ashley: We do want to do that and do remote broadcasting stuff, but definitely everything is a possibility right now and that’s what’s exciting about it.
Heather: It’s a step-by-step. We just finished a month of broadcasting and I think we’re doing pretty damn good for only a month On Air, right? - a month. That’s all we’ve been On The Air and people are already loving the station.
Ashley: We’ve had a crazy response. It’s not the same old thing and it’s not the same 20 songs, or whatever, and it’s not just one genre. If you’re like, “I’m not crazy about this genre,” come back in an hour, or some shows, come back in 20 minutes.
Heather: We’ve got real human beings coming in and curating an experience for the listener. It’s not like a DJ who’s like, “Okay, here’s Everclear”.
I came from that world, I used to do commercial radio and I have every respect for those people, but their business model is completely different from ours, and I like ours better. It’s more fun.
Do you have to pay royalties? Is it like a blanket license?
Laura: Yeah, which we want to do! Just like a regular radio station.
So, it’s just a blanket license and then you take random surveys to see what people are listening to?
Ashley: We don’t have to report for terrestrial we only have to report for online since we’re a low power station. They figure no one can hear us but they’re wrong. If we were a regular radio station we’d have to do a lot more, but because we’re low power-
Roger: We still keep track of all our songs that we play 24/7.
And are the DJs responsible for logging that somewhere?
Grigsby: Yeah we have a program that we use.
So, you can go back to Monday’s show and listen to that again?
Roger: No, we don’t have archiving yet, but we’re going to. That’s another step-by-step thing. We just don’t quite have that going yet, but we will. In a couple of weeks, it will be real soon. We actually vetted out a vendor that’s going to help us and we’ve signed everything over. Everything is set up we just have to get it working.
On our website the traffic is really about to blow up with this new system and the archiving, streams are going to be a lot better where we can handle thousands of streams. Hopefully, worldwide is going to be a deal. It already is a little bit but we’re going to be capable.
That would be really cool.
Ashley: Yeah, because you can’t be awake and at the radio all those hours, you could try.
Heather: Nashville is hot, people are starting to find us on the TuneIn app and just through Third Man Records retweeting our tweets, and stuff like that. We want them to be able to hear the shows.
Are y’all tracking audience numbers? What do y’all use for that?
Heather: No we don’t, not at this time - The Arbitron Ratings, we may be able to figure that out when they come out. But all of that stuff is really nebulous when you’re dealing with terrestrial radio, there’s no way to tell right now how many radios are tuned in to 101.5 FM. Now, sure, we can use Google analytics and stuff like that and we can track some of the stuff, you know, and our social streams are just going up up up up, so we’re tracking that stuff, but we just love knowing that there are people driving around town listening to us. We don’t know how many.
Laura: What we lack in probably numbers, we make up for - like y’all said, you have it on all day. I would have it on all day if I had nothing to do with this. And people who listen are really into it and really love it. We’re small but mighty. That’s kind of our deal. Low power, high voltage - for now.
Heather: We are an ambitious bunch, or we wouldn’t have a radio station, because it’s been a lot of work.
Laura: This is great because it doesn’t belong to anyone. It belongs to Nashville. One entity, it belongs to the whole city. And we really don’t have hidden agendas, we’re not working for one corporation, we’re not trying to sell anything, ya know? We just have love for the music and for radio and for Nashville and everybody else does too, so there’s really no hidden motive. We wear our hearts on our sleeves. Our black, little raisin hearts.
It definitely shows, it’s like a quality of life upgrade since you got started.
Heather: Isn’t it crazy? That’s what has blown my mind the most. I knew it was going to be great, I didn’t know how great. I didn’t know it was going to make living here a better place to live. And having that reflected back to us by so many different people- I have cried. We cry a lot. Cried rivers. You pull into your driveway and you don’t want to get out of the car because you’re listening to something great. Or you’re in your bedroom and you’ve got the radio on and it’s like, “I should really go to bed because I’ve got to get up early in the morning but Sam Smith is just blowing my mind right now and I don’t want to turn off the radio.” So that, THAT is [claps]. Music City y’all- this is it.
Ashley: Maybe this is a stretch but I think about how the 60s and 70s are kind of my favorite era of music. I think about how the Beatles and all of those bands from British Invasion and the only way they could hear music was over the radio. It was not only pre-internet, it was pre-anything. Getting from here to there, get on a ship - you know what I mean - it was so rare to hear American music and if it weren’t for American music they wouldn’t even exist because they were so inspired by Little Richard, but it was radio and that’s how you get it out. Internet has a certain way to get music out but it doesn’t feel the same, it doesn’t sound the same.
Laura: In my opinion, we are in an on-demand world. We flip through Netflix and figure out what tv show [we] want to watch, what movie [we] want to watch, and [we] can go to Pandora and say, “Nope, not that”, [we] can go to Spotify, but on terrestrial radio you don’t know what’s coming next, it’s the last place you can be surprised and discover something completely unexpected that you love. It’s old-school, but it’s getting new-school like records.
Heather: It’s hyper-local, too. It comes straight out of downtown Nashville for the people of Nashville. We don’t need to talk to more people. We can just talk to our community and that is valid and that is what people are really, really digging. Now if they want to listen in Finland, that’s cool, too - we’re all for that.
Thanks for loving our baby. Thanks for kissing our baby. That’s what it feels like, everyone thinks our baby is cute. It’s a 5 year baby - Man that’s one big baby!
The Gang. From left to right: Grigsby, Laura, Heather, Ashley, and Roger. Not pictured Randy and Pete.
Thank you to WXNA FM for letting us stop by and interview you for the Original Fuzz Magazine. We are incredibly excited for this station and look forward to many more years of low power, high voltage radio!
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