Neighborhood open mic: Riverwest Radio launches this Saturday
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Anyone who has walked past Riverwest Film And Video in the last week or so might have noticed something new in the window. Intermittently, there has been a microphone set up next to a computer, appearing a little like a low-tech radio booth. And that’s exactly what it is. This Saturday will mark the launch of Riverwest Radio.
“Well, it’s more like the launch of the launch,” says Xav Leplae, one of the masterminds behind the station and the owner of Riverwest Film And Video. While Laplae, along with associates Nick Rhyan and Celeste Verhelst, work to secure a low-power FM license for the station’s 100-watt transmitter, they’re jumping the gun and webcasting at riverwestradio.com. Right now, it’s an empty domain, but Leplae says by the weekend it will be up and running. On Saturday, “around 3 p.m., maybe until the store closes,” Leplae and company will set up a couple of mics and put a sign in the store’s window. “I’ll go live and start without a plan. It’s kitchen table. You just arrive, and we can talk about anything.”
Somewhat confusingly, this is not the Radio Free Riverwest station that The A.V. Club reported on last fall. This is a much less formal and prescribed concept. At first, there might be occasional patches of dead air, but people are expected to fill them in over time. It’s something of an experiment: Put an expressive void in the middle of a neighborhood that’s chock full of artists and see what gets sucked in. Leplae says they’ll give airtime to “any person willing to be there when they’re supposed to and not swear.”
Riverwest Radio won’t exactly be “community radio.” Unlike other stations like 88Nine and WMSE, there will be no copyrighted material, no ASCAP fees, and nothing that can be found on Spotify or YouTube. It’s a station created by a community, and nothing more. People will either be talking or playing their own music. “We have no strength but freedom,” says Leplae.
The station is behind a pane of glass—transparent media at its most literal. The name “Riverwest Radio” isn’t a brand; it’s a matter-of-fact statement of where the station is located. It’s an expression of a community, not a definition of one. It’s a card table on a 5-by-6-foot piece of yellow floor, two mics, and, eventually, a 100-watt transmitter—a rinky-dink signal that will solidly cover the neighborhood and could reach as far as Pewaukee on a clear night. It’s a space big enough for another radio station to hang a poster.
Riverwest Radio’s aesthetic is intended to be closer to public access television than community radio. Leplae, who has done a variety of Milwaukee public access shows, says, “What I like about public access is how out-there it can be, the odd stuff that people come up with.”
The aim of Riverwest Radio is to be small, but not exclusive; political, but not dogmatic. It’s a gift to the community. What makes it a great gift is that it can’t be purchased anywhere, only given.