|Every week more than 36,000 Middle Tennesseans have their FM radio dial tuned to WMOT 89.5.
TMP photo by Kelly Hite.
The station, based on the MTSU campus, is one of only a few full-time jazz radio stations left in the region, said Keith Palmer, director of development at WMOT.
“These types of stations are few and far between,” he said.
Listeners constantly thank the station for keeping “smart music” on the radio, Palmer said. WMOT is a National Public Radio member station.
“Our audience over the past five years has continued to grow,” Palmer said. “We would like them to grow faster.”
WMOT is a modern, mainstream jazz station playing music from Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in the 1940s and ’50s to Diana Krall and Kevin Mahogany from the present.
The jazz station is a division of the MTSU College of Mass Communications and broadcasts its signal from the Learning Resource Center on campus. MTSU is also licensed by the Federal Communications Commission to operate the student-run station WMTS-FM 88.3.
Listenership has increased as WMOT has expanded its coverage area in recent years to include most of Davidson and its surrounding counties. Recent equipment updates have given the broadcaster high definition capability, which if monies were available would allow WMOT to add a second station.
Anyone around the world can listen to WMOT on the Web at www.wmot.org.
WMOT’s annual fall on-air fundraising drive ended Oct. 18 short of its $50,000 goal.
Bi-annual fundraising has become a necessity for the station to operate as federal grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting are becoming harder to obtain. Money raised goes directly towards operational and programming costs.
MTSU, as an entity of the state of Tennessee, pays WMOT’s eight full-time employees’ salaries and benefits and a modest operating budget, Palmer said.
WMOT General Manager John Egly said funding is always in question.
“MTSU has been a good partner,” he said. “We have always been able to meet our budget needs.”
WMOT’s mission melds with that of the MTSU as a whole, which is to educate and seek community partnerships.
“(The station) is such a great resource to educate and to provide the community with what is a truly unique American art form,” Palmer said.
Greg Lee, program director and host of The Morning Beat, listens to every CD that comes into the station, “We are just inundated with music now,” he said, “and there are only so many hours in a day — a year.”
Lee estimates he receives about 50 CDs in the mail a week from local and national artists.
“If you are a jazz fan, it is a good place to be,” he said of the station he has worked at since the early 1980s.
WMOT’s catalog of music contains more than 6,000 songs.
Monday through Saturday from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. programming is locally produced but broadcast on a live-tape delay meaning most shows are taped ahead of time.
Throughout the day, WMOT features live local news, weather and traffic produced by its news department. The station also broadcasts news from the Associated Press.
Overnight the syndicated jazz program "Jazz with Bob Parlocha" is broadcast.
“He is very knowledgeable about this music,” Palmer said.
Sunday's playlist is filled with a variety of local and NPR programming.
Community Outreach and Education
WMOT reaches out to the community by playing public service announcements for area nonprofits through out the day. The station’s Web site allows nonprofit organizations to self-post their events.
The jazz station also partners with and promotes area jazz festivals such as the annual Main Street Jazz Festival on the Murfreesboro Public Square.
WMOT first signed on April 9, 1969 from the MTSU Boutwell Dramatic Arts Building with 780 watts on a 100-foot tower primarily as a way to teach students about radio.
“To this day we have paid student workers both on and off the air,” Palmer said. “They get really good experience.”
At any given time, WMOT has 15 to 20 paid student workers.
WMOT changed from a block programming station to an all jazz and news station in 1982.
John L. High, the general manager at the time, did community research and discovered there was a void in jazz radio in Middle Tennessee. The station wanted to build an audience by going to one format.
Jazz music is culturally diverse and WMOT offers national programming through the night and on Sundays, Palmer said.
“That is the best part of this music is that it does cross a lot of lines, he said, adding that he became a fan of jazz music while working at the station as a student in the late 1980s. “That is why we like it.”
WMOT Jazz listeners are more educated, travel more and have a higher income than the average radio listener.
Listeners are more likely men than women, according to NPR Jazz audience profile 2006, and most listeners are over the age of 25.
Some 50 percent have a college degree, 68 percent have a household income over $50,000 a year and 67 percent travel domestically.
“Our listeners are extremely loyal,” Palmer said. “Our donors are extremely loyal. Many have been giving to the station for 10 years or more.”
WMOT was nominated for the Gavin Report “Jazz Station of the Year” in 1988 and ’99. Details Magazine named WMOT “Middle Tennessee’s Best Radio Station” in 1991.
Erin Edgemon can be reached at 869-0812 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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