Local Beat 

Local Beat

I got my radio on: Thanks to WMBZ-FM 94.1 The Buzz, hard-rock fans have a new reason to bang their heads. DJ Renn Wilson, host of the Saturday night Homegrown program, has launched the Homegrown Local Music Showcase at Newby's on the Highland Strip.

"I started doing the radio show in January, and we got such a huge response from listeners that the decision to do the showcase was easy," Wilson explains. "Bands like Sammy's Good Eye, Mr. Peeplez, and Leroy Star are always working hard to make things happen. With their help, the show has really taken off."

A 13-year radio veteran, Wilson managed bands and promoted concerts in his native North Carolina and in Atlantic City, New Jersey, before coming south. "I worked with bands like Ben Folds Five and Hootie & the Blowfish in a scene that was comparable to Memphis," he says. "There's a lot of talent in this town, and it's just a matter of time before the major labels take notice."

Wilson recalls one memorable night in Atlantic City, when Saliva played a show with Nickelback and Default. "Saliva blew everybody away," he says, "and once I came to Memphis I realized why. Most Jersey groups are cover bands, but Memphis is definitely a real music town."

Upcoming showcases will feature Leroy Star with Starliner (October 7th), Michael Tolcher (October 14th), Mr. Peeplez with The Nina Makris Band (October 21st), and Sammy's Good Eye with Slamhound (October 28th). Two bucks will get you in the door, with burgers and drinks costing a deuce apiece -- and don't forget to tune into the Buzz on Saturday nights at 9 p.m. for a preview of the headliners.

"Any local musician has a fair opportunity to get involved," Wilson says. "Just send in a CD that's broadcast-quality." Citing such disparate Memphis talents as Cory Branan, Retrospect, Ingram Hill, Scott Sudbury, and Crash Into June, Wilson adds that "there are a lot of bands here who could really go places." To get your group on the air -- or to become a part of Wilson's behind-the-scenes street team -- go to VenuePromotions.com or 941TheBuzz.com.

Further down the FM dial, the sound isn't nearly as sweet: WUMR-FM 91.7, the University of Memphis jazz station, is in a precarious financial position. The 25,000-watt station -- known around town as "The Jazz Lover" -- held its first radiothon last week in an effort to create a salaried position for a programming director.

WUMR broadcasts a blend of traditional and contemporary jazz, Latin, and new-age music alongside educational, sports, and community-service programming. According to Dr. Bob McConnell, the station's general manager and an associate professor at the U of M, WUMR serves as "a training lab for students, providing hands-on experience in announcing, news reporting and writing, talk-show hosting, and sportscasting."

McConnell primarily serves as adviser to WUMR, "making sure the station adheres to FCC rules and regulations. We need someone who can come down and work at the station full time," he says. "A lot of students aren't that familiar with jazz. We have to teach them what fits the format."

So why is WUMR a jazz station? "That decision was made before my time," McConnell, an avowed fan of Dinah Washington and Duke Ellington, confesses. "When the station was formed in 1979, we knew we had to fill a particular void and educate students and general listeners. The format ties into a jazz program in the music department taught by Dr. Jack Cooper."

"The state has drastically cut university budgets," McConnell continues, "and we were hit with a $7 million cut. When we decided to create the [programming-director] position, we realized we'd have to create our own funds." The station, which collected $10,000 in an earlier fund-raiser, has already reached $8,800 with its radiothon. "The climate for jazz is good in Memphis right now," McConnell says, citing club openings and local heroes like Kirk Whalum. "We're just doing whatever we can to enhance the interest in America's original art form." Supporters can send tax-deductible donations to WUMR, c/o Department of Communications at the University of Memphis.

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