March 4, 2008

WUMB plugs in

OK, my original headline was going to be: "Following in Dylan's Footsteps, WUMB goes electric." For those who don't know, public radio station WUMB-FM (91.9), affiliated with UMass-Boston, has been Boston's preeminent force in folk music for as long as I can remember. For the most part, it has remained true to its traditional folk mantra, though it would dip into contemporary singer-songwriters to help keep the music current. It also airs great programs like the World Cafe and E-Town, which give voice to up-and-coming musicians.
This week, WUMB began its new format, called a music mix, which according to station officials, was going to add some electricity to their sound. The idea was to not so much change the artists they were playing, but allow songs by those artists that had a more electric sound -- to give the sound a little "kick."
Personally, I love the idea. At times, WUMB dragged a bit with its song selection. I'm all for Greg Brown, Townes Van Zandt, Cheryl Wheeler... but give me some electric Lucinda Williams, throw in a rockin' Sarah Borges song, and don't forget to add a dose of Neko Case, Crooked Still, Ryan Adams, and, gasp!, Iron & Wine.
Well, I tuned in on Monday for a bit, and will do it again throughout the week. To my disappointment, I did not hear what I expected. Maybe they are trying to bridge the gap slowly so they don't offend the longstanding fans of the station. In the hour I listened to, I heard only one upbeat number, you know, something with a fast beat, and I don't believe I heard any electric guitar that stood out. They have not posted a playlist yet from that day, but it should be up soon. I will study it when it is posted and see if I'm right.
Anyway, I'm sure it takes a while to get something like this going, so we'll just keep tuning to see what's happening.
On a larger scale, there is an interesting trend going on here on Boston radio. WERS, Emerson College's radio station, changed their formats last year, also dropping its pure folk show as well as its jazz show for a more eclectic mix of everything. The format is great and they play great music. But what does it say about those genres in Boston and probably across the country? Is jazz dead? Is traditional folk following suit? It's worth exploring. Stay tuned.

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