Volunteer Spirit

WEVL thrives on independent streak, listener support

By Andy Meek

We volunteer. Those two words comprise this particular radio station’s independent streak and listener-supported ethos, which traces its beginning to 1976 and to the days of vinyl and reel-to-reel tapes.

Rebecca Chertow is host of WEVL’s Pajama Party, which airs from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays. The station will be holding its 36th anniversary fall pledge drive Nov. 9-17.  

(Photos: Lance Murphey)

Those two words are just as relevant to the Memphis station’s mission 36 years later in 2012, when volunteer deejays spin in many cases tunes from homemade playlists in a digital world where even the CD now is becoming a relic. And a hint of those two words still is visible in the station’s name: WEVL 89.9 FM.

A New York Times travel story about Oxford, Miss., in late 2011 told readers they could reach the town by flying into Memphis. “The drive to Oxford takes about an hour and 20 minutes,” the story went on, before adding, “Be sure to flip your radio dial to WEVL 89.9 FM.”

If those travelers do that, of course, they’ll hear what Memphians have enjoyed for years – broadcasts and volunteer-prepared shows that start daily at 6 a.m. There are about 60 programs a week, everything from blues to bluegrass to alternative country.

The programs include My Morning Mixtape, broadcast every Wednesday from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. and which essentially presents listeners with a “mixtape” of modern and indie rock. There’s also The Many Moods of Ben Vaughn, a show hosted by Ben Vaughn that airs from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Tuesdays and from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Fridays.

Vaughn’s show is the equivalent of someone walking into a record store, picking about 10 shelves at random and just saying “I’ll take one of everything.” His playlist encompasses rock, blues, jazz, folk, soul and a lot more.

Vaughn played a benefit show at Otherlands in recent weeks that pulled in more than $2,000 for the station, according to WEVL program director Brian Craig. About his first Memphis appearance since performing at a 2003 WEVL benefit, Vaughn, a composer for TV sitcoms like “3rd Rock from the Sun” and “That 70s show,” said “I’m always jazzed about playing in Memphis.”

Meanwhile, WEVL is hosting its second annual trivia tournament Oct. 21 at 5 p.m. Sponsored by International Paper Co., it’s part of the station’s continuing efforts to maintain the funding that’s kept the lights on and the music playing for nearly four decades now.

Rebecca Chertow, host of WEVL’s Pajama Party, looks through music at the nonprofit radio station, which will be holding its 36th anniversary fall pledge drive next month.

The tournament will take place at Minglewood Hall, 1555 Madison Ave. It will consist of 10 rounds of 10 questions each, with door prizes, a silent auction, and more. Teams of six players can join in for $90, and single players may register for $15 and be placed with a team.

“Obviously, there’s a whole lot more competition these days,” Craig said. “But the thing we have that other stations don’t have is it’s people from the community doing the shows. Anyone can play the top 40 or top 40 in country, but (WEVL deejay) Bashful Bob playing country is something they can’t duplicate on satellite radio.

“You think – in the past, if you wanted to hear bluegrass on the radio, the only opportunity if you lived in Memphis that you had to do that is when WEVL played bluegrass. Now, you can stream bluegrass. Sirius has a bluegrass channel. So, there’s more competition. But at WEVL, with the volunteer-run shows, it’s their expertise, enthusiasm and love for the music that shows.”