Alysa Stryker, Staff Writer – Greece, New York – November 24, 2010 – It’s no secret that independent radio stations around the country are fighting for their lives, fending off the push for syndicated programming and a continuous stream of top 40 hits. With time, stations have lost originality, created a culture of less personal connection with listeners, and foregone listener participation.
Although it is rare to live in a place where independent music streams freely — with only eight full-time jazz stations left broadcasting in the country — Greece is lucky enough to say that it houses one of them. Jazz90.1 is one of the last independent stations to still streamline jazz on a full-time basis.
Derrick Lucas, music director at Jazz90.1, mulls through anywhere from 50 to 100 submissions that are sent to the station at Greece Olympia High School each week. The musicians are an atypical, avant-garde bunch, ranging from local college students to singers and songwriters from around the world, including artists from Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
Lucas listens carefully, cover to cover, looking for a delicate balance between old classic sounds like John Coltrane and Dizzy Gillespie to new, young and local trendsetters.
Aside from a wide range of jazz, the stations also provide extensive ethnic programming, including the Lithuanian program “Dainos Aidas,” the German program “Polka Bandstand Show” and Italian show “Pronto Italia.” On Dec. 4, it will add a third Spanish program to its lineup, with the addition of “La Nueva Era,” hosted by veteran Rochester DJ Freddy Colón.
The station’s motto — “take jazz further” — means playing a steady stream of jazz roots while also pushing the status quo to find artists who are straddling the line of old-fashioned and contemporary.
Why are only eight full-time jazz stations still left in the country? Rob Linton, station manager at Jazz90.1, says it’s simple: Jazz is not a money maker.
“Corporate radio stations know they can make more money with country or top 40 or things like National Public Radio,” said Linton.
But Rochester is a hub of jazz-obsessed listeners, says Linton, to the point where they are willing to fully fund a station like Jazz90.1 during semi-annual fundraising efforts. Although the station is located in Greece Olympia, it is funded solely by pledge drives and other fundraising events, not taxpayers.
“Rochester is a huge jazz town, and the jazz festivals are proof of that every year. That tells us that there is a huge audience out there,” said Linton.
Despite the rough economic times, the station is still receiving enough added support and pledge donations to stay fully afloat.
“These are listeners that care about the music enough and love the music. People are die-hard jazz fans here,” said Linton.
The station, which began in 1973, is not student run; however, high school students in Greece schools have the unique chance to use the equipment and create local public service announcements for their classwork.
Alexandria Pakitsas, a 12th grader at Olympia High School, spent time in the studio, learning the equipment and bulking up her skill set before she heads off to college for a career in broadcast communications. Pakitsas is one of many Greece students who had a unique opportunity as a high school student, with both a state-of-the-art audio-recording facility and television facility all in one location.“It opened a new world; I’ve never really used this type of technology,” said Pakitsas. “I’m trying to study broadcasting now because I like it so much.”
Linton says one of the stand-out details of the station is its ability to stay hyper-local and community-based, while most other stations are preplanned, prerecorded and less intimate.
“Radio is so corporate, there is no community aspect to it now,” said Linton. “We’re very community-oriented. My staff is live here, with live people on the radio 18 or 24 hours a day. Many stations send voices in pretending they’re from other places. We don’t do that here; we’re all live.”