WYPL is Turning Up the Music 

Y'all know me. Heaven forbid that I would use this valuable space to self-promote, mainly because I haven't had much to promote lately. But I couldn't help but notice in last week's cover story in the Flyer that there's somewhat of a kerfuffle going on concerning community radio station WEVL.

This is a subject that I know a little bit about, because I was a volunteer programmer at WEVL for 12 years. I left the station under somewhat less-than-pleasant circumstances, but it was my fault. I was playing protest and anti-war music from the '60s, and I couldn't help but draw comparisons between the arrogant and misguided decision to go to war in Vietnam and the similarly idiotic invasion of Iraq. I was told by the board and management to cease my on-air political commentaries, and I tried.

Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library - MEMPHIS PUBLIC LIBRARY
  • Memphis Public Library
  • Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library

But then came Hurricane Katrina, and I went a little nutty. I prepared some "fight the power" music and some measured personal outrage for my first post-Katrina show and did the modern-day equivalent of locking all the doors and playing "Louie, Louie" for two hours. I thought if I had a platform, no matter the size, and failed to use it to express indignation over the complete neglect of hurricane victims, then I'd be a coward. I thought the station would have my back, but unfortunately, a couple of members ceased their contributions in protest. My show was cancelled, and I felt obligated to resign.

I continue to support the station, mainly because I have many friends there who do dedicated work that's worth supporting. Other than that, I have no idea what's going on at WEVL since I haven't set foot in the studio for 13 years. According to the Flyer story, the board of directors and station management haven't changed much in that time either, so I have an inkling about what the "Friends of WEVL" are trying to accomplish. But that's no longer my concern. I've returned to volunteer radio now, and I'd like to tell you about it.

One of Memphis' best kept secrets is the Memphis Public Library's radio station, FM 89.3 WYPL (Your Public Library). Daytime programming consists of volunteers reading for the visually impaired — not just the daily news, but best-sellers, popular magazines, and everything else. But when the sun goes down, it's party time, utilizing the library's extensive Memphis music collection and much more.

Monday features guitarist and former Gentry's drummer Alan Heidelburg with "Memphis Music Memories," followed by Ron Hall and "The Roaring Sixties." Author of four books about Memphis music, including Playing for a Piece of the Door: A History of Garage and Frat Bands, 1960-1975, and the exhaustively researched, Memphis: The Rock & Roll Years, which documents all the concerts that took place in Memphis from 1955 to 1985, Hall plays music from every local band that ever cut a record in the '60s, including the Guilloteens, Tommy Burk & the Counts, and many others.

Tuesdays belong to the legendary Leon Griffin, veteran disc jockey, entrepreneur, former weatherman on Good Morning Memphis, and producer/director at WHBQ TV for memorable programs such as Talent Party, Studio Wrestling, and The Happy Hal Show. Leon plays music from the '70s and '80s on his "Memphis Radio-Active" show.

Wednesdays spotlight the "Memphis Gospel Collection" with archivist and engineer Vance Durbin.

Are you ready for that self-promotion now? You'd better be, because Thursday is soul night. My show, "The Memphis Soul Revue," features music not just from the world-famous local studios, but from artists who traveled with the great rhythm & blues package shows that played the Auditorium and the Coliseum. Rufus Thomas said, "'The Memphis Soul Revue' is the most exciting new show on the air today." If I'm lyin', I'm dyin'. But then so is everyone else.

Friday features the Sun Studio Collection with various hosts, and Saturday, singer/guitarist and blues aficionado Paulette Regan hosts "Memphis Women's Music," followed by "Playing Around" with Bob Elbrecht, and former WLVS DJ Tim Mullins playing current music from local artists.

On Sunday, the "Reigning Queen of Beale Street," Barbara Blue, plays the blues on "Shout, Sister Shout." Former FM-100 and Rock-103 DJ, Mitch McCrackin, helms the "Memphis Music Inner View," where local musicians are interviewed. And musician extraordinaire Jim Spake hosts Memphis legends to discuss and listen to their music.

So, just in case you were looking for an alternative to the alternative, how's that lineup fer ya? I've been there for a year now and having more fun than a dunk-tank clown. All the equipment is top notch, and Antonious Smith is the innovative engineer. Station manager Tommy Warren is ambitious about improvements, and the station is streaming on "the internets." It's all financed by the public library, so I guess self-promotion's not bad if it's for a good cause.

Funding for the library's FM station and WYPL TV Channel 18 comes from its popular twice-yearly book sales, and support from the Friends of the Library, a nonprofit, charitable organization that has existed since 1962. Last year, the group raised $400,000 from sales of books, CDs, and DVDs through the library's bookstore, Second Editions. The store offers gently used books from donors and the library. The Friends give books to Juvenile Court, the Shelby County Jail, Wounded Warriors, and other worthy groups. They fund all adult programs at 18 public library locations. Some volunteers have been there for 40 years.

If you're like me, you've probably driven past the Central Library on Poplar a thousand times, always intending to stop. It's not just an architectural marvel; there's more going on in there than you can imagine. Plus, they have a wonderful music collection, which brings me back to my self-promotion. Turn off the exhausting news and tune me in on FM 89.3, Thursdays at 7 p.m. instead. I mean, where else are you going to hear Bo Diddley and the 5 Royales?

Randy Haspel writes the Recycled Hippies blog.

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