This day is the 36th birthday of the inimitable community radio station out of the French Quarter of New Orleans: WWOZ. As a preeminent "flag-bearer of New Orleans culture and musical heritage," the station plays Jazz, Blues, Latin, Cajun, Funk, Gospel, Bluegrass, Zydeco, and could be described much in the same way one might describe this inimitable city - uninhibited and celebratory, where a plurality of cultures teach each other how to enjoy life.
The history of WWOZ begins on December 4, 1980, in the beer storage room, upstairs from the famed music club, Tipitina's, where as legend has it, the DJ dropped a microphone through a hole in the floor, which would hover over the heads of performing musicians. The history of this club is as rich as the radio station; fourteen young music fans, including the then 25 year old Thaddeus Bunol "Tad" Jones, calling themselves the "Fabulous Fo'teen," wanted to create a place for the then 59 year old self-taught "former street hustler" turned blues singer, pianist, and innovative jazz artist, Professor Longhair, also knowns as Henry Roeland Byrd, and colloquially, "Fess." Professor Longhair is known for his innovative fusion of "rhumba rhythms with boogie-woogie, blues and southern R&B," but listen and decide for yourself.
I ask myself, and fellow music fans: whose music do you love so much, that you would get together with your friends to create a home for the artist to continue to make this music, for as long as she is able? Professor Longhair died three years after the founding of Tipitina's, but through the club, and the radio station, his artistry reached wider audiences, inspired countless rising musicians, and thankfully -- for all of us -- was preserved for future generations.
WWOZ -- or "the Wonderful Wizard of OZ" -- started at the hands of two well-heeled Texan brothers with a huge record collection and "a mind to create a radio station reflecting local culture." One brother, Jerry Brock, a former CBS executive and self-described "media activist," explained in a 1997 interview that: “media affects our lives much more than people think. It’s really important to try to add a little balance to the world of media, to show some sincere, warm kindness that people can hold onto. So much of media these days is not very real.” Brock attributes WWOZ's success to a non-commercial, non-exploitative approach to music broadcasting and says he is most proud of the station's racial diversity: "I have always tried to help represent black culture in New Orleans. My brother and I were always most proud of the fact that WWOZ was the very first station with a 50% white and 50% black listening audience. No commercial or non-commercial station had statistics like that .... It’s a reflection of the uniqueness of New Orleans culture.”**
Happy Birthday WWOZ, though the gift is to us.***