For a region known worldwide for having an incredibly rich and varied music scene—one that’s home to fans and players of styles ranging from folk to jazz, hip-hop to classical, world music to experimental, indie rock to, yes, jam bands, Americana, and classic rock—the Hudson Valley is lacking a radio station that reflects our diversity. Commercial stations, be they independents or Clear Channel or Cumulus franchises, are restricted from airing much content that could be perceived as challenging or esoteric and potentially alienate listeners. Yes, we’re also lucky to have easy access to NPR, but there, once again, programmers’ hands are largely tied, mainly because of the organization’s preponderance of nationally syndicated shows. Of course, there are also a few college stations that actually do offer a sizable sampling of otherwise underrepresented music, but their limited transmitters mean that most Hudson Valley listeners can only hear them online or in their upstairs dorm rooms. So, indeed, for far too long there’s been a glaring need for a far-reaching noncommercial station, one that offers the more adventurous music and other freeform content not readily heard elsewhere on the local dial. Well, guess what? Soon there will be.
WGXC, which takes to the air next year, will broadcast to over 78,000 listeners in Greene and Columbia Counties and beyond. While holding forth at 90.7 FM with 3,300 watts of power—equal to, and in some cases greater than, that of most prominent regional broadcasters—the planned publicly funded, volunteer-run station will not only offer the widest-ranging roster of music that its programmers can spin, but will also feature local news, social and political discussion, radio theater, area sports coverage, poetry programs, farm reports, documentaries, live feeds and playbacks from community events, children’s and educational shows, features on local history, and a wealth of other content underserved by existing area broadcasters. According to its online mission statement, WGXC aims to “[re-envision] radio as an innovative platform for public participation. Our inclusive programming connects diverse voices, and distributes information across the public spectrum. The project will be much more than a radio station, including media training for youth and other members of the community, and a blog, a local calendar of events and meetings, and more.”
A leader of the 100-plus-member grassroots team working to launch WGXC is Tom Roe, who with his wife Galen Joseph-Hunter is also a founding member of the Brooklyn-spawned transmission arts collective free103point9 and co-manager of the 30-acre Wave Farm experimental music site in Acra (the group and facility were profiled in the June 2006 issue of Chronogram). “We got the idea to start the station in late 2006,” says Roe over a steaming cup at Hudson’s Strongtree Organic Coffee Roasters, which is currently offering a special WGXC blend to help fund the project. “We found out then through [activist organization] the Prometheus Radio Project that the FCC had opened a window for Columbia and Greene Counties to apply for a license for a full-power noncommercial FM station, and we jumped on it. During the application process we were competing with three other groups that had also applied, but they were all from outside the area. So the fact that we had a clear vision for the station and were also active members of the arts community definitely worked in our favor. Plus a lot of [the team] already had experience in radio and community organizing.”
A member of WGXC’s council whose resume embodies both of these experiential traits is Germantown’s Kaya Weidman, who helped to develop several low-power radio projects in communities in Mexico. “Columbia and Greene counties are similar [to the parts of Mexico where Weidman worked] in that they have towns that are very rural–like, say, Cairo—and also very urban, like Hudson,” explains Weidman, who is also a co-founder of the community-supported agriculture collective Germantown Community Farm, works locally with youth theater groups, and teaches gardening classes. “The intention of WGXC is to reflect all aspects of the community, and to be a valuable social resource. For instance, right now CSAs like the one I work with have almost no access to local media. One of the ideas behind WGXC is to work to make the food system here better by making agricultural knowledge more available to farmers, storekeepers, chefs and restaurant owners, gardeners, and consumers. Across the board, the response to having the station has been amazing, judging by the awareness building we’ve done at street events and places like [Hudson low-income housing project] Crosswinds. And the news programs we’ll have will cover the deeper, non-Albany regional stories that [NPR outlet] WAMC is less likely to pick up on.”
Better food, better news. Sounds great, but what about the music? “We’ve gotten a lot of applications from people interested in doing shows, and we’re reviewing those now—there’ve been some really exciting ideas,” says Roe, who in addition to leading an internationally acclaimed career in transmission arts has written about music for the New York Post and cutting-edge music magazines The Wire and Signal to Noise. “But a big part of what we’re striving for is to make good radio; to have DJs who play interesting music and sound like real people but also know how to put together a good show and hold listeners’ attention. So one of the other things we’re doing is conducting workshops to train on-air programmers, which will be especially great for younger DJs, I think, because it will give them and their friends who are listening in something exciting and constructive to be involved in, and could turn them on to music they might not otherwise hear. And regular live remotes will be a big fixture of the station, so we might move the broadcast from, say, a parade or a town board meeting in Athens or a poetry reading at a bookstore in Hudson to a live show by a band at a club up the street.”
Catskill folksinger Chrissie Budzinski, who runs two area open-mike nights and manages the music at Inquiring Minds bookstore in Saugerties, is planning to host a program devoted to local musicians. “Besides playing music by local artists, [the show] will be a great way for them to promote their gigs and CDs,” Budzinski says. “I want to have musicians on to play live and do interviews. I feel so blessed to be part of the arts scene here; the amount of talent we have is just amazing.”
WGXC, which will have a main studio in Hudson with satellite studios in Catskill and Cairo, received a major boost earlier this year in the form of a $71,000 grant from the New York State Commerce Department, which covers half the purchase cost of a transmitter, an antenna, and other equipment. Though the station has been broadcasting online and accepting donations at www.wgxc.org since May 2009 (during last month’s elections the site aired recordings of local candidate forums), its parent organization is currently working to raise the remaining cash it needs through a series of fundraising events. On the heels of a November benefit concert and poetry reading at Catskill’s BRIK Gallery, WGXC will be hosting an enormous masquerade ball with live music, DJs, and other performers, all emceed by the inimitable Trixie Starr (aka Giovanni Dimola), this New Year’s Eve at the massive Basilica Industria performance site in Hudson. “We’ve been decorating the space especially for the event, and it’s looking incredible,” says Roe. “There’ll be local art and we’re going to have a huge confetti drop, of course. But we’re also planning a lot of ‘nontraditional’ New Year’s Eve entertainment, like belly dancers and some special surprise acts. And since we’re starting early [6pm], we’re gearing the first part of the night toward people with children; there’ll be tables where kids can make their own masks and other projects. There’s also going to food and drinks, plus a silent auction.”
Among those looking forward to the gala is Young Paris, a Hudson-based rapper and videographer currently readying a debut album on his own 5 Star Musique label. “From my end the station is a beautiful thing, as far as marketing and networking with my music,” says the 21-year-old MC. “It’s been beautiful to watch [the station] grow from the ground up. It’s good for the community, it says ‘We’re real, we’re local.’ And it really makes me want to be more serious as an artist. It keeps me going.”
The WGXC New Year’s Eve Masquerade Ball will take place on December 31 from 6pm to 4am at Basilica Industria in Hudson. Performers will include Dark Dark Dark, Mother Fletcher, DJ Jackie Thomas, Diata Diata, Lady Moon, and many others. www.wgxc.org.
- Galen Joseph-Hunter
- The WGXC Council, (front row): Debra Kamecke, Kathleen Packard, Tom Roe, Hosneara Kader, Kaya Weidman, Max Goldfarb;(back row) Andrew Turner, Paul Smart, Hudson Talbott, Alan Skerett, Dharma Dailey.