WEVL celebrates 40 years of volunteer radio

WEVL FM 89.9 is truly a “Memphis thing.” Known for its diverse programming, WEVL is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and the Mid-South’s only listener-supported, independent volunteer radio station. Yes, the majority of the station’s funding comes primarily from listener donations.
“The station airs nearly 60 different programs each week and is supported by volunteers and its two full-time employees,” said Brian Craig, WEVL program director. “What’s really unique about WEVL is that the majority of programming is live, emphasizes Memphis culture, and is hosted by volunteer DJs.”
According to Judy Dorsey, WEVL’s station manager, there will be a 40th anniversary celebration Oct. 8 with a concert and festival called “WEVL 40 Fest.”
“WEVL FM 89.9 would not be the cultural entity and beloved radio station it is today without our incredible army of dedicated volunteers and loyal listeners,” said Dorsey. “We couldn’t think of a better way to honor our supporters than by throwing a huge 40th birthday party, and inviting the community to experience some of Memphis’ finest musicians while putting faces to the voices that they hear every day on WEVL.”
Dorsey said that WEVL has impacted the city by offering what is essentially a free music education for those listening to the station.
“We introduce people to a variety of genres and artists that they might not have found were it not for WEVL,” explained Dorsey. “The music that is played is selected by volunteers who serve as program hosts and who are passionate about music and want to share it with Memphis — and the world, now that we are broadcasting on the Internet.”
“Listeners today have so many choices for their music listening,” said Craig. “What keeps people listening to WEVL and what keeps the station relevant is the constant influx of volunteers who serve as program hosts, bringing new information and musical tastes to the station. Our program hosts are local, compared to other stations where it has become very common to use programs that originate in cities other than where they are aired.”
 Amy Schaftlein, volunteer host, in the WEVL studio
Dorsey described their audience as people who are intrinsically enamored with music, in many various forms. It is one of the things that set WEVL apart from other stations. Their program hosts have developed quite a breadth of music knowledge of their own and are able to offer background and anecdotal information that is both engaging and entertaining. As for the local music scene, Dorsey said that WEVL is recognized as being the only Memphis station that plays local Memphis music every day — whether it is from the past or the present, across a variety of genres. That aspect has been true since the founding of WEVL, and has included live performances by local musicians in the WEVL studio. Many of those local performances were recorded and archived, which is another thing that is unique about WEVL.
Longtime station volunteer Amy Schaftlein began her affiliation with WEVL in 2007 when she served as the station’s office assistant while she was a student at the University of Memphis. She now hosts a program called “Bubblegum Trash,” saying her musical choices include “post-punk,” “shoegaze,” and “noise rock,” with some of the music coming from local bands.
“I just fell in love with WEVL and continued to listen to the station,” said Schaftlein. “I had always loved music and a variety of genres, plus I had been making my own playlists for some time. I was inspired to try out for a time slot.”
As for how she sees WEVL contributing to the local music scene, Schaftlein said, “WEVL plays things on the radio that you don’t hear elsewhere in Memphis, and it allows you to learn a lot about Memphis music, both new and old.”
WEVL 40 Fest will take place on Oct. 8, rain or shine. Festival-goers are encouraged to bring their own blankets and lawn chairs, but to leave their pets, food and drinks at home. Food and beverages can be purchased from Loflin Yard. Event sponsors include Archer Malmo, Hyde Family Foundation, Loflin Yard and Memphis Made Brewing Company. Advance tickets for the event are $25 for adults and $10 for kids 12 and under. On the day of the event, the ticket prices will increase to $30 for adults and $15 for kids. All admission sales go to WEVL. To purchase tickets or learn more about WEVL 40Fest and the line-up of musicians, visit wevl40fest.com.

Read more articles by Emily Adams Keplinger.

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