By Jamie A. Cooley, Studio M staff //
In just over a year on the air, the new-and-improved WMOT Roots Radio has positioned itself as a major force in the Nashville-area music scene as a full-time Americana radio station.
Run from the campus of Middle Tennessee State University, WMOT has made many updates to the station and its equipment to produce more stability.
“We had [year] 2003 computers running our station, so I had to raise a bunch of money to get rid of those and update our software to be able to run a radio station,” WMOT Executive Director Val Hoeppner says.
Next on the list of improvements was to replace the outdated, 25-year-old radio transmitter by raising $150,000.
The WMOT signal reaches north of Bowling Green, Kentucky, and south to the Alabama border.
“We serve a huge swatch of this state and Kentucky, in fact. So we have a very powerful signal … and now we are finally putting that [the range] to use,” says Hoeppner.
Hoeppner believes that the technology update has made the station more stable, and since it’s a listener-supported station with limited underwriting, they rely heavily on their members. This will certainly be the case in 2018, when the station aims to expand even more..
“In 2018, I would say we’re focusing on growing our membership, which really means growing our music community. And the way that we do that is through live music events,” says Hoeppner.
WMOT’s “Wired In” live-music, members-only show features Americana bands and performers. (Americana encompasses a mix of bluegrass, blues, folk and country music roots.) For 2018, Hoeppner stresses the importance of these live shows and how they will incorporate more of the shows throughout the year.
Just last Friday, “Wired In” has featured some big-time Americana names such as The SteelDrivers and the Jerry Douglas Band.
WMOT is growing its membership, doing more live events, improving its digital presence with a Roots Radio app, website stream, ViewHouse, and is also looking into doing a festival.
The station itself dates back to1969, when it began as a lower-power, student-run station that played rock music with a small amount of listeners.
Initially, the station was a charter member of National Public Radio, which differs from its current non-commercial station.
Non-commercial radio gives stations freedom to produce a more unique sound.
Soon after being a mostly rock station, WMOT began incorporating jazz, classical and even talk radio. This continued from 2009 until 2016.
On Sept. 2, 2016, WMOT became a full-time Americana station, removing all of its NPR news programming, jazz music and classical music.
This big switch to Americana has presented the station with more success. Before, WMOT ranked 43rd out of 44 in the Nashville radio market; just eight months after the switch to Americana, WMOT became 25th.
Hoeppner states, “We’re gonna add a blues show is 2018, and the cool thing is it’s gonna be hosted by four different blues musicians.”
Luther Dickinson and Carolyn Wonderland will be two of the four musicians, while the other two remain a surprise.
WMOT also wants women’s voices to be heard and is incorporating a show about women in music.
“There aren’t enough women on the air or in the charts. We want to make sure things are as balanced as possible,” said Hoeppner.
In 2019, WMOT has an even bigger milestone: when it celebrates its 50 years as a radio station.
“What that tells you is there was a huge hole in the market, because Americana music is made here in Tennessee … and it is part of our authentic sound of Middle Tennessee,” says Val Hoeppner. “I’m really glad that we made the switch,” Hoeppner states.
Jamie Cooley is a senior majoring in journalism at Middle Tennessee State University.
Studio M, a project of the College of Media and Entertainment at MTSU, allows student journalists to be published statewide and nationwide. It’s made possible through grants and donations from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Tennessean and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.
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