This is not your typical open mike.
Open Mic is a new, local-music radio hour created by Clear Channel’s Mike Ferris. Ferris is the FM Operation Manager for WIBA, WZEE, and WMAD in addition to WXXM 92.1. He’s also the program Director for WMAD Star Country and WIBA.
Open Mic Night has its origins in Lee Rayburn’s morning show, which used to air on 92.1. Rayburn featured local music on Fridays, frequently having guests in the studio. His efforts have resulted in repeated Madison Area Music Awards nods for Best Local Music Radio Personality. Rayburn departed 92.1 over programming disagreements and Ferris decided he would pick up the mantle and run with it, expanding the time devoted to local music and moving it to Saturdays at 7 PM. Ferris is also working on getting podcasts of his interviews posted on the 92.1 website.
I sat in with Ferris as he recorded his second installment of the series (the first featured Natty Nation). This one featured Subvocal, a band with weighty subject matter woven into its music. Ferris had obviously done a lot of homework. He started by prepping the band on how the show would run; that the segments would move from the art of the music to the business of the music, then to song content (including the story line for a specific song written on the date of environmental activist Judi Bari’s death). He finished the interview with talk about the band’s future. Subvocal tracks were to air between the roughly five-minute segments.
Subvocal (guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Mark Adkins, cellist Steve Pingry and vocalist/keyboardist Vanessa Tortolano) did a lot of prep on their own. This was obvious and a good note for musicians to take. They came in with ideas on the subject matter to discuss and there was also a lot of discussion around the choice of tracks to air. Ferris demonstrated that he knew a great deal about Subvocal. I later remarked to Adkins that this is more than most high-powered stars get from interviewers (radio or print) as they frequently don’t effectively research their subject matter.
Ferris led the interview with a lot of passion. I spent a generous amount of time speaking to him after the taping and he is a bright, energetic individual who came across as genuinely caring about local musicians and the plight of music in general.
92.1 is known as a talk radio station, a good one, but not one you would normally tune into for music-related subject matter. That being said, in addition to the aforementioned Lee Rayburn, the station has also benefitted from Stu Levitan’s Books and Beats program, where he frequently discusses music, though not always local.
“This is about talk radio as much as it is music,” Ferris remarked to me. “It’s also a chance for us to provide a ‘soundtrack for the city’ by covering a wide range of styles and genres.” Ferris gave me a complete history of the radio station but, more importantly, he recounted a pretty complete understanding of the local music radio programming that has been done in Madison. Ferris sincerely embraces the community and wants his show to be a catalyst for more local programming content. He also has a lot of opinions about the current state of the music business and you can count on a future hour devoted to that topic as well as lots of discussion between himself and his guests about how the current state-of-flux is affecting them.
Artists who are interested in being on the program should email Ferris at firstname.lastname@example.org. A detailed press kit is essential and several tracks of recorded music should be enclosed. You’ll want to be sure these tracks are of broadcast quality and are complete. The more information you provide upfront, the more likely you are to get a meaningful result, as was the case with Subvocal. It’s a good lesson in the fact that bands still need a press kit. Relying on your mySpace page to do the work for you is not going to cut it, but let’s reserve that topic for future discussion. The amount of pre-show advertising is also worth mentioning as Adkins says he repeatedly heard ads for the program and mentioning Subvocal by name.
As usual, the proof of whether the program will be a success will be in the public’s reaction to it. Tune in, drop Ferris a line and let him know you appreciate this programming and spread the word through your networks that this is a cool, new opportunity to promote local music. We can never have enough of that.