Internet Radio Station Review: WWOZ

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, one of the world's premier live music events, kicks off this Friday. The Jazz Fest website describes it as "a 10-day cultural feast in which thousands of musicians, cooks and craftspeople welcome 400,000 visitors." 

The festival's focus is on the indigenous music and culture of New Orleans and Louisiana, and that means a spicy stew of jazz, blues, R&B, gospel, Cajun, and  zydeco. But there will be plenty of rock, rap, country, and pop music, too. Native sons such as Dr. John and Sonny Landreth will be joined on the bill by the likes of Pearl Jam, Jeff Beck, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Van Morrison, Aretha Franklin, Elvis Costello, Blues Traveler, the Allman Brothers Band, and Simon & Garfunkel.

Can't be there in the flesh? You can still listen in, thanks to WWOZ-FM, the Jazz Fest's flagship radio station, which will be streaming more than 28 performances between April 23 and May 2.

The Internet has transformed WWOZ from a regional treasure into a national one. In 2008 Esquire magazine honored WWOZ with an "Esky" award, recognizing the non-profit, listener-supported station as one of the nation's top Internet radio stations.

That's heady stuff for a station that started on a shoestring 30 years ago in a small studio above Tipitina's, the legendary New Orleans nightclub. Back then, deejays would lower a microphone through the floor into the club to record live shows for broadcast.

Over the years, the station has sustained its passion for broadcasting live music while greatly expanding its capacity to do so. The Jazz Fest is the main event, but WWOZ also broadcasts from several other New Orleans festivals throughout the year. Their mobile unit travels to festivals across the nation and occasionally to overseas events.

It strikes me as remarkable that a local radio station would send a team to festivals outside its broadcast signal coverage area. But recall that Hurricane Katrina forced many New Orleans residents, including its musicians, to relocate. As a community station, what do you do when the community you serve is suddenly scattered about the globe?

"After the Federal Levee Failure (what you might call Hurricane Katrina), the city's musicians and culture bearers were spread all over the United States," said Tom Morgan, jazz historian and WWOZ show host. "... The mission of the station broadened and new listenership surged as the station was not only serving those in the city, but those now displaced from their homes and those new listeners who wanted to know if the city and its culture still existed ... As the city continues to rebuild, WWOZ is one of the few things in New Orleans that works the way it did, and now even better, as technology helps us to bring New Orleans to the world."

The musicians who remained in New Orleans after the storm found it much harder to make a living. As always, WWOZ bends over backward to help them.

"In New Orleans, the first thing that most musicians do after they receive the first mix of a new recording is go to the station and have it played for the city and the world," Morgan said. "At this time of Jazz Fest, you can only image how many trips to the station have been made and how many new CDs are ready for sale."

And that's enough to whet my appetite for some new music.

How to listen:

Accessible through most wireless music players

Website: http://www.wwoz.org/. For the best sound quality, choose the 128K MP3 stream.

 iTunes: In the iTunes Radio menu, the station's listed in the Jazz streams folder.

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