On April 12, a new, non-commercial radio station, NV89, opened shop in Reno. Here’s a sampling of what’s been on the air so far.
Friday after lunch—a jazz track, a call for songs by local musicians, a soul/hip-hop tune I liked but didn’t recognize.
Friday mid-afternoon—Elle King, the White Stripes, Cold War Kids, indie singer-songwriter Angel Olsen, Father John Misty and a singer from Las Vegas with a voice a bit like Sade’s and a pop veneer.
Friday evening—the XX, Goldfrapp, something from Alabama Shakes’ Sound and Color.
Saturday—Los Angeles band Chicano Batman, Reno indie band Bluff Caller, Vampire Weekend, more XX.
Sunday morning—Reno new-wave-flavored rockers Asphalt Socialites, one of the recently leaked Prince tracks.
Willobee Carlan, program director operations manager and afternoon DJ, talked about the station’s aims.
“Of course I have favorite music that I’ve grown up with,” he said. “I don’t think it’s my mission to turn people on to my favorite music. My mission is to turn people on to amazing new music that we’ve discovered, that’s being released.” Carlan and fellow DJs Gia DeSantis, Malayna Joy and Jake Wagner wade through new releases on Spotify and sift through the already hundreds of emails they’ve received from bands—and they plan to throw in the occasional song from what Carlan called his “deep library of gold music, older stuff.”
The station also plays local music—and “local,” here means statewide, as the station is affiliated with Las Vegas-based Nevada Public Radio and heard on translators in rural parts of Nevada and nearby states.
Carlan, who started in college radio and worked in commercial radio for decades, said that after that short burst of creative freedom he’d experienced in his college days, he’d been largely obligated to playing “popular, familiar hits.” But these days, when he talks about programming the station, his eyes get wide, and he gets to use the word “curate.” NV89 is following in the foosteps of taste-maker stations like Santa Monica, California’s KCRW, an NPR affiliate that favors world music, music news, and music that the rest of the world will be listening to in six months.
Nevada Public Radio President and NV89 CEO Flo Rogers explained in a phone interview how and why the station came to fruition. After KJIV—the non-profit rock station that previously occupied the 89.1 frequency—went off the air in February, the signal became available for purchase. The frequencies between 88 and 92, Rogers said, are known as “the reserved band.” That end of the dial is allocated for non-commercial stations—mostly public radio and religious stations.
Nevada Public Radio’s philosophy, said Rogers, is this: “We want to make sure the number of public radio stations doesn’t get any less.” Another motivating factor was that the organization wants to be more accessible to younger audiences at a time when the public-radio listener demographic has been graying for a while. Rogers’ board found bank financing to start NV89 with, and the station will also depend on pledge drives and membership drives.
The station is planning at least one improvement soon—a studio for live concerts that should seat about 25 to 30—and it’s already made another one. The on-air playlist is now available, so if you hear a leaked Prince track or a Las Vegas artist you don’t already know, you won’t be in the dark about a song that just played. To find it, look for a tiny, analog-clock icon that appears when you’re streaming.