Tuesday, October 5, 2010

We are all 'Guardians of the Groove'

I used to say the folks at NPR were my best friends, keeping me company all day long during lonely years of self-employment. But I now only rarely tune in Garrison Keiller, Ira Glass or the "Car Talk" guys, Tom and Ray Maggliozi. They are like old boyfriends I hardly think about anymore - though I occasionally miss the sound of Daniel Zwerdling's husky voice - hmmm.

That's because WWOZ radio fulfills all my needs. When I first returned to New Orleans and was suffering through an interim job in a nasty, noisy office, I tuned out and put on earphones to hear great, local music while writing about pending legislation and social advocacy. The station never got old and the music was never boring. I can honestly say I don't remember hearing the same song played twice by the same musicians on the "Greatest Station in the Nation." From Ernie K-Doe to Irma Thomas, it is all fantastic stuff.

The range of music is wide because every one of the station's DJs is a volunteer who puts together his or her own weekly playlist. Overall, it is an amazing repertoire. The HBO show, "Treme," attempted to characterize the typical 'OZ DJ, but they are a free-wheeling group. I, personally, do not listen all night long, but there are people in the studio playing music through the early morning hours.

I don't tune in until 9 a.m. when the station features Traditional Jazz. Even trying to pin that down is difficult because every weekday, a different DJ has his own take on what "Trad jazz" is. Later, there's electric blues, acoustic blues, R&B, Soul, Jazz from the Market, Bluegrass, Cajun, Zydeco, the Spirits of Congo Square - where jazz was supposedly born - and the Kitchen Sink, which throws in everything else. Whew! Who needs NPR with all that?

One of my faves is Latin music on Saturday, starting with "Tiene Sabor" with Yolanda Estrada, "Tudo Bem" and "World Journey" with Suzanne Corley - magnifico! I often start to write down the names of the songs or performers, but know the playlist is online.

I would have trouble getting out of my car, afraid to miss what's next, but know there'll always be more great music. Let's not forget WWOZ's invaluable music calendar, which is an up-to-date and exhaustive list of live music playing nightly at clubs across town.

I wasn't here during The Storm, but have heard many say how much it meant to hear WWOZ, which was back up and running almost right away. Its French Quarter studios did not flood, so the station came back on-air, giving New Orleanians hope their culture would survive. It did much to promote New Orleans musicians who had a rocky period after the population dispersed and tourists and conventions abandoned the city.

Having not been here right before or after "K," I cannot personally say what it meant, but my theory is New Orleanians owe their emotional resilience to music, which buoys their spirits. You cannot feel blue when you hear that New Orleans drumbeat or the bellows from a tuba.

This week, WWOZ is hosting a fund drive and fans are calling from all over the country and the world to say what the station personally means to them. They stream it on their computers and now there's an iPhone app, whatever that means. "Two hundred fifty characters is not enough to say how much WWOZ means to me," wrote one listener in the online donation form.

Even the fundraising drive is fun - "We are the niche within the niche," boasts a volunteer about the Cajun music played on Sunday afternoons.

"We've given you a peek into your city, so now, peek into your pocketbook," another pleads. It takes money to keep the station going, despite the loyal corps of volunteers playing their own recordings.

A decade ago, we worried that all broadcast music would become homogenized on stations bought up by Clear Channel. The Internet made it possible for everyone everywhere to hear the true, authentic sound of New Orleans' incredibly talented musicians. They can show their gratitude now by becoming WWOZ members.

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