By MARY FOSTER/May 03, 2009
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Hot Club of New Orleans was on stage at Economy Hall tuning up before its set at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. In the big black truck behind the tent, a group of technicians hovered around a high-tech board, ready to send the band's music out to the world.
"Things really get crazy this time of year," WWOZ music director Scott Borne said. "We've recorded live every night, then every day of the Fest we're our there from 11 to seven."
WWOZ, a nonprofit, listener-supported radio station that specializes in music connected to the cultural heritage of New Orleans and the surrounding area, broadcasts a number of events throughout the year live. The annual Jazz Fest shows are among the events most eagerly awaited by listeners.
"We sacrifice our festival to bring it to the world," said Tom Morgan, a jazz historian and writer who has two shows on the station, "Jazz Roots," and "The New Orleans Music Show."
Like the other on-air people, Morgan is an expert on the music he plays. And like all the others, he is not paid.
"We have 100 volunteers who have shows," general manager David Freedman said. "And each one of them is a member of the New Orleans music community. They live with our music every day, they don't just play it on the air."
WWOZ went on the air in 1980. At the time, the station operated out of the upstairs beer storage room at a nightclub, Tipitina's, where the DJ would drop a microphone through the floor and send the live music below straight to the airwaves.The station grew quickly, attracting fans around the world when it started streaming on the Internet.
"I've had people call at 2 a.m. from London to tell me they like a set," said Dean Ellis, a bartender who has had a show on the station for eight years. "I do drive time in Europe."
The station regularly hears from listeners in Australia, Japan, Spain, France, England and the Scandinavian countries, Freedman said.
"We have a man from Hong Kong that listens all the time that is visiting this year during the festival," he said.
WWOZ has also put down deep roots in the local music scene. The station owns more than 700,000 live recordings that are currently being preserved by the Library of Congress.The station is also busy digitizing 25,000 CDs and 10,000 record albums, which are being stored on a server that can be loaded onto one of the two studio trucks the station has acquired since Hurricane Katrina.
"We can drive out in one of these puppies, set up and put an antenna on it and be on the air two days max," Freedman said. "We never want to go through what we went through after Katrina again."
Swept up in the evacuation of the city, Freedman found his staff and volunteers scattered across the country. The building that headquartered WWOZ was wrecked, the station, which relied on an October fundraiser for money, was broke, and the future looked grim.But the volunteers that are the backbone of the station, trickled back, Freedman secured grants, and donors kicked in. Completely unsolicited, 32 public radio stations sent money, Freedman said.
WWOZ now finds itself better equipped, better funded and with a dedicated group of paid employees and volunteers.A four-hour Best of the Jazz Fest program, syndicated to over 100 stations, is a big moneymaker.One of the station's biggest fundraisers is the Brass Pass. For a $375 donation, the pass allows wearers to enter a tent equipped with fans, clean bathrooms, a variety of fruits, drinks and places to sit in the shade.
"It's a great deal," said Yvonne Hiller. "I love supporting the station, but it's also nice to get something for my money."
WWOZ also gets money from the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival Foundation, and earns between $25,000 and $50,000 from two Mango Freeze booths it operates at the festival.