WRIR: A decade of stories

After 10 years of broadcasting non-commercial, underrepresented music, news, talk, and opinion, WRIR volunteers share their favorite stories of the station.

WRIR 97.3 FM is about to hit the 10-year mark of broadcasting non-commercial, underrepresented music, news, talk, and opinion. The station has been on the air since January 1st, 2005 and is operated solely by volunteers.

On February 6th, WRIR celebrates the last decade with the 10th Annual Party for the Rest of Us at the Renaissance Ballroom. The birthday party, which is the biggest event WRIR throws (It’s insane! but awesome!), is a benefit to support and celebrate the independent local music scene.

Music entertainment for the evening includes Ann Beretta, Murphy’s Kids, Ki:Theory, Sam Reed Syndicate, Classical Revolution RVA, Dave Watkins Big Band, Navi & Dumb Waiter, Square Dance w/The String Band For the Rest of Us, Bermuda Triangles, and the R.A.M.ifications a cappella group. There will also be other entertainment occurring including Huckiddy Puppet Show and WRIR DJs spinning vinyl.

To help celebrate this milestone, Hardywood Park Craft Brewery is unveiling a special brew – simply named “X” – in honor of a decade of WRIR. The bottle label includes original artwork by Richmond artist Ed Trask.

And since WRIR is celebrating its first decade of broadcasting, I thought it would be best to hear from the people who make WRIR so great. I asked WRIR volunteers and staff to share their personal memories of the past 10 years at the station.

Kate Andrews, Volunteer

“One of my favorite moments from volunteering at the station was last year’s Party for the Rest of Us. It’s a little odd being a DJ. Unless you’re going to committee meetings or lots of activities, you don’t necessarily know many other volunteers. But last year’s party was cool because I had joined the marketing committee in 2013, so I knew more people and felt like I really was part of the WRIR community. It’s an amazing group of people, and I truly feel like I have many friends there.”

Eric Walters, Host of “Wide Ear Folk”

“The best memory for me was being there before we officially went live. We were doing the very first signal test of the transmitter. Ken Hollman was doing his jazz show at the time. I ran down and started driving all over the place with my radio tuned to 97.3. Man, was that a rush! Hearing what we had worked so hard for finally come to fruition was a big thrill!”

Shannon Cleary, Host of “Commonwealth of Notions”

“Every year, we do two fund drives to raise money to keep the station afloat. It’s one of my favorite times of year because there are so many people that volunteer at the station and you get to meet a majority of people that you might not get to otherwise. Also, it’s really reassuring to have the city respond by donating to the station and it makes you feel the difference and impact that WRIR has on the city.

Also, I learned one of my greatest life lessons, and it’s informed how I interact with others as well as how I do anything related to storytelling or comedy. The greatest asset any of us can have is the ability to naturally smile when you talk about anything (particularly the things you love) and whenever you are on the microphone asking people to donate to the station, my friend Michael Harl would go as far as saying this is even more essential in that circumstance. If you find yourself naturally drawn to talking with a grin while encouraging others to donate to the station, that somehow translates over the airwaves and it just seems to work every time for me. I’ve realized also that if you ever want to go to dark places with storytelling or humor, doing it while grinning seems to keep audiences with you as well.”

Gene Pembleton, Host of “The British Breakfast Show”

“Perhaps it’s not common knowledge that the origins of the British Breakfast Show started in the basement of the unfinished building below us, which is now the Camel. A few brave hearts–including my original co-host Jessica Cundari Reilly–did our shows live on the internet to only a handful of listeners, mostly family. We then moved to a small office upstairs where we continued to broadcast to our internet friends. This location was no bigger than a closet, and one would be pressed to comfortably fit two people in there at a time. The studio (Studio A) that we now broadcast from was far from being a working studio. It was a bedroom of sorts with a beat-up mattress. I don’t know his name, but a very nice Virginia gentleman who greeted us at 9:00 AM every Saturday morning in an open bathrobe and underwear with a polite offer to serve us coffee (we would politely refuse). He was the first to occupy our studio in the modern era of this old home.”

Bill Lupoletti, Assistant Music Director for World Music and Host, “Global A Go-Go”

“I’d say my favorite memory of WRIR is of our first fund drive, in March of 2005. Liz Humes (now the host of “Wordy Birds,” then our development director and the person who raised most of the money it took to get on the air) insisted that we should have a fund drive immediately.

Several of us, myself included, were skeptical. We didn’t think the organization was ready to do that kind of work. And we didn’t say it out loud, but here’s what we were really afraid of: we would ask for money and hardly anybody would donate. We launched that first fund drive only 10 weeks after we started broadcasting and the result floored us. We raised $20,000 (probably $15,000 more than I expected).

But more than the money, what amazed me were the responses of the listeners — it seemed that WRIR was even more important to them than it was to us. Hundreds of listeners trudged up the long stairs to our second floor office to drop down $35, pick up that first WRIR fund drive T-shirt, and give us a pep talk about why what we were doing was the best thing that happened to Richmond since forever.

Two of those donors stand out in my memory. The first was an older woman who had some difficulty climbing those stairs. When we asked her what her favorite WRIR programs were (we’ve been asking that question at every fund drive since the first one) she listed two: Democracy Now! and “that techno music you play on Saturday night.” That taught me a little something about our listener base. The second memorable donor was a musician who didn’t have any cash to donate, but thought maybe his old 24-channel mixing board could be helpful. Hell yeah, it could be helpful! We were running the station off a 4-channel disco mixer at the time. Oh, and of course he brought the board with him and hauled the thing up the stairs himself.”

WRIR Presents: The 10th Annual Party for the Rest of Us takes place on Friday, Feb. 6th at the Renaissance Ballroom. More info can be found at the Facebook event page.

Photo by: WRIR

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Andrew Cothern

Andrew Cothern is the founder and editor of RVA Playlist, a music site that showcases events, concerts, album, show reviews, and opinion pieces that focus on the vibrant local music scene in Richmond.

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