The Importance of Place in Community Radio Broadcasting: A Case Study of WDVX, Knoxville, Tennessee

Article excerpt

Listening to radio programs was once a family/community event that connected listeners to both place and time. Today, amidst marketing concerns and Top 40 hits, commercial radio has become a placeless medium. Similar music and programs can be heard nationwide, often free of references to the location of their broadcast. One exception to this form of cultural homogenization is community radio. Unlike commercial radio, community radio stations try to distinguish themselves by incorporating aspects of their location and the listening community into their broadcasts. This study uses the community radio station WDVX in Knoxville, Tennessee, as an exemplar for understanding the importance of place. Using key theories on place creation, I argue that WDVX is more than just an FM frequency, but rather a meaningful place to station personnel and the listening community. Through qualitative interviews and observations, I show that WDVX has created a sense of place through the unique sound associated with the space the station occupies, the particular uses of technology in radio broadcasting, and the participatory nature of WDVX at multiple scales. Station employees at WDVX have transformed the physical space of a radio station into space that has meaning; in other words, a place.

Keywords: community radio; sense of place; music; identity; space-time compression

Introduction

The year 2008 was declared "The Year of Community Radio" by the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC). (1) While it may seem ironic that an international organization exists for what is, by definition, a local phenomenon, AMARC's declaration is one indication that community radio has expanded beyond the boundaries of its terrestrial signals. The globalization and technological advancement of the radio industry have changed the definition of "community" in community radio. Members of AMARC, who include community radio broadcasters, production companies, and organizations of stations, are, through their membership and participation in the organization, securing a place for community radio in the broadcasting medium.

This paper presents a case study of the importance of place at WDVX, a community radio station in Knoxville, Tennessee. The listener-supported, non-profit station, established by Tony Lawson in the late 1990s, broadcasts old-time, bluegrass, classic country, folk, and Americana music from its headquarters in downtown Knoxville. Not long ago, the station celebrated its 10 year anniversary. This study argues that the station's success is a result of its efforts to connect the listening audience, both local (within range of the station's terrestrial signal) and non-local (outside the range) to the importance of the station as a place (space that has meaning) through the use of a grassroots style of programming, adopting both old and new forms of technology, and providing the listening audience with opportunities to interact with the physical aspects of the station. Attracting and maintaining a listening audience is essential for WDVX's survival because the station depends financially on listener support. This case study provides an example of how one radio station mediates the local/non-local divide by emphasizing the importance of place.

In what follows, I present a discussion of sense of place and importance of place in geographical literature, followed by a brief discussion on the definition of community radio, a short review of community radio research, and a description of WDVX. Next, I explore sense of place among three aspects of WDVX: the process of song selection, the merging of traditional and modern technology, and the opportunities audiences have to interact with the station. I conclude by asserting that by emphasizing the importance of WDVX not just as a setting on the radio dial, but as a place, the station personnel have created a sustainable community of listeners that will ensure the station's future support and survival. …

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