Local Rhythms – No static at all

Two years ago, Newport native Steve Smith came home to start a radio station. After several years running a Clear Channel affiliate (with no regrets, he’s quick to point out), he was looking for a new direction.

Steve’s goal was simple – serve the community. “That’s what every radio station should do,” he told me the other day.

After a lot of research, he came up with a country music format that suited local sensibilities, but managed to satisfy his music maven instincts at the same time.

So it’s a given that WCNL plays every generation of Hank Williams, along with Loretta Lynn and Toby Keith.
But the Johnny Cash selections are both well known and obscure. “One of the great surprises I’ve had on this station is discovering all the great Cash music I missed,” says Smith.

Best of all, there’s room for artists that draw from country roots, like the Amazing Rhythm Aces and the Byrds, and the Eagles, a band that influenced modern players like Travis Tritt and Toby Keith.

Steve is proud of hometown-produced shows like the Sunday morning “Joyful Noise” gospel program, and “Tiger Talk,” which is written, produced and presented by Newport High School students. It includes a 15-minute school news segment.

But he gets his biggest charge from non-musical moments.

“Last Friday, the Newport football game was moved to one in the afternoon, and we broadcast it live,” he said. “People called to thank us for doing that, because it meant they could hear their kids play while they were at work.  That was awesome.”

In December 2008, when WCNL was the only radio station with power after a big ice storm, being able to provide vital information to the town was especially satisfying.

Charity work is a big part of the station’s efforts. Steve wanted me to be sure to ask readers to support the Coats for the Community drive WCNL is doing with Sullivan Country United Way. They’re collecting clean, unused coats, which can be dropped off at the any Claremont Savings Bank location or at the WCNL studios on Main Street in Newport.

The station recently augmented their AM signal and Internet stream with a new FM signal.

There are plans for an all-local music program, a countrified version of Local Licks, a show Steve did in the Upper Valley. Anyone looking for airplay should contact the station.

With that, Steve was off to cover the Stevens-Newport football game.

On to the rest of the week:

Thursday, Oct. 22: Ellis Paul, Flying Goose Pub – What would the Boston folk scene be without Paul’s definitive songwriting style and nurturing heart? Along with an immense catalog of songs (16 albums), he’s helped bring people like Patty Griffin and Antje Duvekot to the public’s attention, and he’s worked with everyone that matters in the New England folk world. For that and more, he’s won 13 Boston Music Awards.

Friday, Oct. 23 Tom Howie, Flickinger Auditorium (KUA) – The literate young songwriter is appearing in a free show accompanied by Ryan Gleason, a Kimball Union Academy alumnus, on upright bass. Howie’s easy acoustic folk is reminiscent of John Mayer and Jason Mraz. Steve Tyler, healing from an ill-timed stage dive, attended Tom’s recent Flying Goose show, so there’s definitely a buzz going on here.

Saturday, Oct. 24: Alive & BalancE, Claremont Opera House – Kiss and Van Halen are coming to Claremont. OK, they’re really convincing doppelgangers. I doubt music this loud has ever invaded this building. The walls will probably still be shaking when the symphony arrives on Sunday. Alive re-creates mid-70’s Kiss minus the flames and fireworks, while BalancE features a dead ringer for Sammy Hagar on vocals.

Sunday, Oct. 25: Arch Weathers, Canoe Club –� don’t know much about this New London based piano player, apart from his repertoire, which includes Elton John, Billy Joel and Broadway show tunes. But he’s a new face at the Hanover restaurant/bar, so why not give him a plug? I have a lot of respect for Canoe Club owner John Chapin’s taste in music, so Weathers is probably a safe bet.

Tuesday, Oct. 27: Irish Sessions, Salt hill Pub – Wednesday blues nights ended a couple of weeks back, but the weekly Irish sessions are a mainstay, with a changing cast of musicians sharing a circle in the center of the room, playing whatever feels natural. It’s a perfect after work destination, with an early (6:30) start. Chris Stevens, Roger Burridge and Dave Loney are regulars, with interesting guests often stopping by.

Wednesday, Oct. 28: Ed Eastridge, Marshland Farm (Quechee) – Tasty licks from the one of the area’s finest jazz guitarists, and he’s a smart singer too. One wag described his music as “like therapy” – and I won’t disagree. There is something quite soothing about his restrained, delicate touch in the midst of life’s vicissitudes.