The Rapidian

Local playlist: A world of music through WYCE

Listener sponsored, volunteer powered community radio station WYCE is a mix tape of eclectic sound. Volunteer programmers create shows that feature everything from on-air performances to poetry to public affairs and always a variety of musical genres.
Quinn Mathews interviewed local musician Nicholas James Thomasma during broadcast of GR Live on November 17.

Quinn Mathews interviewed local musician Nicholas James Thomasma during broadcast of GR Live on November 17. /Carly Schweppe

For more information or to attend the Bubble Bash

A donation of $25 lets you sample 14 varieties of sparkling wines, plus a fabulous spread of food to accompany the bubbly. The event also chances to win prizes that include wine and other cool stuff. So bring your friends, family or business clients out for some pre-Christmas cheer, while supporting community radio. The Bubble Bash - Thursday, December 22nd from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. inside H.O.M.E. at The BOB. No advance tickets are available, cash or check to WYCE is payable at the door. Ages 21 and up welcome.

WYCE 88.1fm is Grand Rapids' commercial-free community radio station, a service of Grand Rapids Community Media Center, celebrating 30 years in 2017. Quinn Mathews began his role as station manager this past summer. He’s the host of GR Live, which broadcasts on-stage performances and interviews featuring different artists from H.O.M.E. at the B.O.B every Thursday at noon. He believes in the power of community radio, its unique ability to be anything and everything.

“Some community radio stations stick to a very specific format,” Mathews said. “Maybe they primarily play folk or maybe sometimes there’s a jazz station, whereas we do every style. But there’s still an art to it. It’s not just picking any random music and throwing it on. The volunteers work really hard to curate their show. We call it a ‘world of music’ so it features blues, rock, jazz, folk, bluegrass, world beat, reggae, everything.”

According to Mathews, the biggest compliment that he hears about the station is that they really do play everything. It’s also the biggest complaint he hears.

But there are definitely ways to embrace the variety and authenticity within this ‘world of music’ while still maintaining accessibility for the listener.

“The number one thing we do with that is work with our programmers. All of our programmers have a three-hour shift on-air and basically we’ve come up with a model for how to transition in and out of certain styles of music so that it’s not just grabbing five different genres and throwing it on there. You’re curating a sound and we know that sound is a ‘world of music’ but you’ve really got to dig in and think. If you’re playing a folk song and it has a certain part where there’s a saxophone playing in there then in your head that’s a good transition to go over into jazz. And then you’ve got jazz playing and then you hear the beat in there that’s a perfect transition into hip-hop.”

Nanette O’Connell has been a volunteer programmer at WYCE for 18 years. Her favorite genres are folk and rock, but she plays music from many different genres, decades and places during her Thursday night show from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.  

“Curating the show for me is a spontaneous artistic creative experience,” O’Connell said. “I tend to get into a ‘zone’ that melds my knowledge of the library and what intuitively sounds good to me.”

In the studio, O’Connell is trying to put together what can be described as ‘the soundtrack to your life’ and that’s a meaningful process. 

“I have stuck with WYCE because it affords me the opportunity to be creative which is very therapeutic for me,” O’Connell said. “I have learned it is okay to make mistakes and to enjoy the whole experience, not just when things go well. I love music. It brings me joy, that's the simple reason why I've stayed here as long as I have. It also brings joy to others. What better thing do I have to do with my Thursday night?”

Cassie Betten, known as ‘Cassie Leigh’ on-air, is another volunteer programmer, whose show takes place in the slot just before O’Connell, every Thursday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

“I come in an hour before my show,” Betten said. “I have a general idea of the artists that have new releases and local artists that have shows coming up. I’m just a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of programmer. A lot of the songs that I play I’m hearing for the first time as a listener. I just kind of play it by ear.”

Betten started out at WYCE answering phones during the 2012 Fall Fund Drive. She became an intern, took the volunteer programming class and now hosts her own show, is a volunteer coordinator and an administrative assistant at the station. What makes her especially excited is playing new releases from the ‘world of music’ on the radio.

“I’m very, very passionate about new music,” Betten said. “I think it’s still a very underappreciated art form. A lot of times the music that we’re exposed to in commercial or Top 40 radio is very over produced and it’s not really an artistic expression anymore. But WYCE still values that music that’s still a great art form.”

During the first hour of Betten’s Thursday afternoon show on November 17, she played seven songs that were released in 2016, ranging from indie rock to punk to blues, by Grouplove, Her, Communist Daughter, Morgan Delt, Five by Five, Thornetta Davis and Melissa Etheridge.

Carl Broemel of My Morning Jacket and David Simonett of Trampled by Turtles stopped by the station before playing a show at Founders later that night. Betten interviewed them about their music backgrounds, collaboration and upcoming projects. They gave a beautiful in-studio acoustic performance.

Throughout the rest of the week, every week, there are other kinds of shows that specialize in a particular topic or scene. There are shows dedicated to acoustic performances, soul music, songs of Mexico, of Britain, of all over the place. Electric Poetry brings Michigan writers into the studio. Local Spins navigates the local and regional music scene. Catalyst Radio hosts a weekly public affairs program.

There are 87 volunteer programmers at WYCE, each one with their own style of expression and love of sound, their own soundtracks to play and listen to in real time.

“That’s what’s fun about this,” Mathews said. “We’re all really exploring and trying. That’s the beauty of it. It’s not recorded. It’s not edited. We’re creating a show for a couple hours. My goal is to have someone listening and when they pull into their driveway at their house they can’t turn it off. They’re still sitting out there because, ‘Oh! Now it’s this song…Well—now it’s this song!' That’s what we’re aiming to do—take you on a ride.”

People can get plugged in to WYCE while they’re actually in their car driving to or away from home. They can stream it online from anywhere in the world. And they can catch WYCE around town, partnering with organizations at their events as well as hosting their own events to keep community radio in Grand Rapids strong.

The 17th annual Bubble Bash, a WYCE fundraiser presented by The Gilmore Collection and Denison Financial, takes place on December 22 inside H.O.M.E at the B.O.B. There will a ton of sparkling wine, food and prizes, all in support of community radio.

WYCE’s biggest party of the year—the Jammie Awards—is coming up again this February at the Intersection. Like the Grammy’s, the Jammies celebrate musicians voted Best Artist of the Year, Best Album of the Year and more, but the Jammies are all about Michigan music, the best of what we have right here at home. And it all leads up to a night of performances - line-up to be announced soon.

In the meantime, listeners can go online for WYCE resources that feature what’s trending at the station, new music reviews, videos of in-studio performances, the featured Artist of the Day, MixTapes and information about upcoming concerts.

There’s also information about how to get on the air for organizations that would like to have their own public service announcement heard on the radio or something listed on the WYCE arts/events calendar as well as information for artists who would like to get some airplay.

“It’s radio as a part of the community and also run by the community,” Mathews said. “We say ‘listener sponsored, volunteer powered.’ The reason the station exists is because of the community.”

So, tune in. Call and make a request. Find a live show.

Listen and create your local playlist.

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