Baton Rouge’s three-year-old community radio station, WHYR, 96.9 FM, is staging its fourth Radiopalooza on Saturday, May 31. Taking place in Galvez Plaza at North Boulevard Town Square, the festival features seven music sets by local acts, games, children’s activities, food trucks and locally produced beer.
WHYR, a low-power FM station that also broadcasts on the Web, aims to provide a broadcast alternative to mainstream radio and media. The station’s programming includes local volunteer radio DJs; local talk radio; and local, regional, national and international music. Operated by the Baton Rouge Progressive Network, the nonprofit, commercial-free WHYR is also an affiliate of the Pacifica Network.
Radiopalooza is WHYR’s largest fundraising event. Raising funds for the station’s continuing operation is the event’s primary goal, Radiopalooza organizer Rebecca Marchiafava said, but it also helps bring the station to the Baton Rouge community’s attention.
WHYR charged admission for its first two Radiopaloozas, which took place at Beauvoir Park, a business and recreational space behind Chelsea’s Café. The move to North Boulevard Town Square made charging admission impossible, so the station sought other ways to raise funds.
“It became more about finding sponsors and merchandise and beer sales,” Marchiafava said. “But there was the added benefit that it was downtown and much more visible. We got pretty good coverage, so people learned about the station through that.”
The station has about 60 volunteers, including its on-air personalities, Marchiafava said.
“We’re building the number of volunteers,” she said. “It’s turned into a vibrant community. We’re finally at that point where we can not only keep the lights on month to month but also try to increase our funding and make the station more sustainable.”
Keeping the community in community radio is always a main goal. With that in mind, WHYR DJ Clay Achee mixes recordings by local musicians into his Monday through Friday noon-4 p.m. slot. Achee also helped select Radiopalooza IV music acts.
“It doesn’t have to be a local music show once a week,” Achee said. “Listeners can hear local music all the time because it’s in our regular rotation.”
Achee was pleasantly surprised to learn how much good local music exists in the Baton Rouge area.
“Four years ago, when we first started talking about making sure we played local music, I kind of cringed,” he recalled. “I prepared for the worst, but I got good band after good band after good band.
“I keep thinking I’m going to run out of local music and repeat things too much, but the local musicians keep making new stuff and new bands keep forming. And they’re avid listeners and great about sending me their stuff.”
Even if Radiopalooza grows to the point that it can afford to book a national headlining act, Achee wants to keep the event’s local focus strong.
“Even with a national act scenario, I’d still like to see 90 percent of the bands be local,” he said. “The wealth of local talent that we have now is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. We’d be fools not to take advantage of such awesome bands.”