There’s a new sound to be found on your computer. It’s new, but it may sound very familiar. Downtown Knoxville Radio began broadcasting last night just before midnight with a playlist dominated by east Tennessee and other regional artists. You’ll find a mix of other artists and the sound may shift from work-time to play-time, but the thread that carries it all are the local artists we’ve come to love and embrace as our own.
Curious as to who was behind the effort, I reached out and found Michael Carroll, one of our own with whom many of you may be familiar for various reasons. He wasn’t born here, but he grew up in East Tennessee, graduated from Bearden High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of Tennessee. After working in that field for some years, he shifted his career to helping start companies in various industries such as technologies in manufacturing and healthcare. He patented a number of inventions and, more recently, operated the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center in 2013 and served as Director of Entrepreneur Development last year at Technology 2020 in Oak Ridge. He likes to get things started.
Of course, enjoying a start-up process doesn’t necessarily lead to a radio station. I asked him, “Why music?” He said he’s been a big fan of music and particularly Knoxville music for a long time. He fondly remembers seeing Chet Atkins in the Bijou, loved the 1970’s Dolly Parton work and particularly her song writing. He was a big Con Hunley fan and really liked the Steppe Brothers who replaced him at the Corner Lounge (he’d like recordings of their work, anybody?). He also enjoyed Knoxville Grass and he’s currently a big Black Lillies fan.
According to Mr. Carroll, musicians are the ultimate entrepreneurs and local music is the cultural thread that most defines us. He said he likes to listen to the Dirty Guv’nahs and the Black Lillies and finds it hard to find a station that plays each of these and other local bands to a large extent. We talked about WUTK, WDVX and WFIV, each of which support local music of different types.
He enjoys these stations and feels this will be different from and a supplement to them. He feels local bands are an under-served population and finding under-served niches is what he does. “What we are trying to do is more specific than their scope. We are building our culture on the foundation of local music.” He really feels our music can help our city find a cultural identity we can point to as uniquely ours.
He chose not to pursue a conventional AM or FM radio station for multiple reasons. It is far more cumbersome and expensive to obtain FCC licenses, for example, and then towers, transmitters and more are expensive. Further, much of the music consumed now is consumed via internet – even when listeners are streaming an actual AM/FM station, and there is a question of the future of conventional radio. He also had a relationship with the people at PYA Analytics and they were situated well to do a digital station. He’s had great support from them and others along the way, including Lori Matthews who he said kept him on track through the process.
He said he chose the “downtown” specific focus because he’s always been drawn to downtown Knoxville and it currently has such a great energy and vibe. “A renaissance is happening in our downtown and in other cities. It is being re-energized after a dormant period. It is the cultural center of our region. There is new energy downtown and I find that exciting.”
There will be a focus on local and regional artists. National artists will be in the blend, but the idea will be to blend compatible national music to our local and regional scene as opposed to the other way around. He hopes the site will serve as a center point for artists who work in other media, for people who operate venues that support the arts, as well as the culinary and visual artists, in other words everything that supports the arts and particularly the musical arts. He plans to “include artists that seem aesthetically consistent with other programming, from roots to Americana locally.”
Mr. Carroll anticipates social media events such as programs that feature local figures’ playlists or perhaps full albums of local artists at particular times of day. Live events would be limited at first, but may become a feature at a later time. He’s also connected to Street Jelly which live streams artists from their homes or can carry live concerts. He imagines developing a Knoxville stream which could stream shows live. Imagine being able to hear and see the Black Lillie’s show in Los Angeles for $5, or hear a stream of local shows that sell out the Bijou, Square Room or Tennessee for a small price.
He wants you to know this is a “work in progress.” He’s still identifying artists and using certified software for tracking plays to ensure the royalties get paid through ASCAP and BMI. While writing this article I listened to the station and heard local artists Jodie Manross, R.B. Morris, Black Lillies and Ian Thomas. I also heard Parke Avery and Humming House, each from Nashville, as well as Sierra Hull (Byrdstown, TN) and Donna Frost (Hendersonville, TN). he tells me Jennifer Nicely, Jonathan Sexton and Kelley McRae are already included. Do you know an artist he should include? Let him know. I’m going to give him my list. Are you an artist who would like to have your music considered? Submit it. The format and playlist will shift as he learns more.
So let him hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s a work in progress and the more he hears from you, the better Downtown Knoxville Radio will be. He’s still reaching out to people in the music community and he hopes they will reach out to him. Tune in. See what you think. Make it better. Spread the word.
Special Note to Readers: I’ll be celebrity bartender tonight at Echo Bistro and Wine Bar on Kingston Pike. If some of you would show up so I don’t feel stupid, that would be great. 6:00 – 7:30. It supports the East Tennessee Community Design Center. Details here.