WMOT-FM, Middle Tennessee State University’s public radio station, is dramatically expanding its reach and range of music to launch a new format dedicated to Americana music and a new home on the dial for its current jazz format.
With the format change on Sept. 2, the 100,000-watt station, known going forward as WMOT-FM/Roots Radio 89.5, will become the region’s only channel devoted to the unique amalgam of bluegrass, folk, gospel, soul, country and blues music defined in the music industry as Americana. The station boasts the clearest and strongest radio signal in greater Nashville.
This innovative partnership combines the reach and scholarship of a major university with the expertise and experience of radio and music industry professionals. A special public kickoff celebration will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, Sept. 2, at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, featuring live music and the beginning of DJ programming. Video of the event will be streamed through musiccityroots.com.
“Imagine, in our neck of the woods, a radio station with real people playing music they actually care about, even love,” said revered artist Rodney Crowell, recipient of the Americana Music Association Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting. “WMOT is bringing Middle Tennessee real music when we need it most. Miracles happen.”
WMOT-FM will continue to serve as a training ground for MTSU students who are integrating audio editing and narration skills into their multimedia portfolios, which include television, social media, print and website management.
“This will give our students the opportunity to work and learn in a vibrant professional environment and provide greater interaction with the music industry,” said Ken Paulson, dean of the College of Media and Entertainment, which operates the station.
The station has partnered with the creative team behind Music City Roots — including its executive producers Todd Mayo and John Walker — to develop a unique, Nashville-centric take on the Americana musical genre. WMOT will also become the flagship station for Music City Roots, a weekly variety show that airs nationally on American Public Television, with its fourth season premiering Oct. 28.
Bluegrass Underground, an Emmy-award winning PBS program and radio show recorded live 333 feet below ground in Cumberland Caverns in McMinnville, Tennessee, also will find a home on WMOT.
“Among Nashville artists charting with Americana albums in recent months have been Sturgill Simpson, the Mavericks, Elizabeth Cook, Darrell Scott, Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell and many more,” Paulson noted. “Nashville is Americana’s hometown.”
The station will remain the flagship for Blue Raider Athletics and will continue to air “MTSU On the Record,” a 30-minute public affairs interview program highlighting the university community, as well as regular area news updates.
WMOT which first went on the air in April 1969, reaches as far north as Bowling Green, Kentucky, to as far south as the Alabama border.
It has aired mostly classical music, with jazz on the weekends and evenings, since 2009, when it moved from its all-jazz format.
In a nod to its tradition of jazz programming, the university will also launch on Sept. 2 the MTSU Jazz Network on WMOT’s HD channel as well as its FM signals 104.9 in Brentwood and 92.3 in Murfreesboro.
“As much as Nashville has cried out for a true Americana station that represents the roots revolution taking place here, we also see jazz as a pure American art form that deserves its own focus,” said Walker, who will oversee the development of new programs for WMOT.
“We couldn’t imagine a Music City radio landscape without it.”
New programming to showcase ‘roots music’
The new WMOT will showcase and celebrate the past, present and future of American roots music with a focus on Nashville’s unparalleled track record of artistry and songwriting, while also highlighting regional and stylistic “roots and branches” from around the country and across the world.
Curated by the programming team of Music City Roots, the Roots Radio playlist will be deep and wide, covering styles associated with Nashville, such as classic country and bluegrass, plus genres that have made up the fabric of Americana and roots music broadly speaking, including gospel, soul, R&B and blues.
The station’s playlist will include thousands of songs from the past, plus a strong rotation of current, vital Americana music. The station will seek to span genres and generations, in defiance of standard radio industry demographic micro-targeting.
Listeners can expect live radio hosts from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays, including veterans of roots music broadcasting. Anchoring the team and directing musical programming will be industry icon Jessie Scott, the first roots music director on satellite radio and a founding board member of the Americana Music Association.
Music City Roots’ Walker will host morning drive. Grand Ole Opry veteran Keith Bilbrey will handle midday, tapping his expertise in country music. Long-time radio man Whit “Witness” Hubner will work early afternoons.
All shows will be able to accommodate drop-in guests, including Music City artists as well as MTSU’s extensive roster of expert faculty.
Greg Reish, for example, is the director of the Center for Popular Music at MTSU, one of the nation’s deepest archives of recordings, sheet music, books and ephemera. He will host a weekly “Lost Sounds” show drawing on the archives with historic context. Plus the archive will inform and inspire other programming and special on-campus events.
Leveraging university, Music City connection
The format transition marks only the latest progression in WMOT-FM’s 47-year history of dedicated service to the university and the community.
From its inception as a pop and rock music listening resource for students in 1969, through its jazz and classical incarnations, the station’s professional broadcasters and their student protégés always have put the listeners’ concerns first, said Val Hoeppner, executive director of MTSU’s Center for Innovation in Media, which oversees the station.
WMOT has received more than 70 awards from the Tennessee Associated Press Broadcasters’ Association since 1984 with more than half of them being first-place honors. It also is one of the most honored radio newsrooms in the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters’ history. This legacy will continue with regular area news updates and top-of-the-hour national and international news from National Public Radio.
“This change will allow WMOT to grow audience, relevance and influence in the Music City market – and beyond,” Hoeppner said. “And we will be able to leverage our ties to the Nashville recording industry by showcasing artists on a radio stage that will reach almost all of Middle Tennessee.”
As a public radio station, WMOT depends on underwriting support from community-minded businesses. Music City Roots’ Walker and Mayo have drawn on long-standing relationships with some of Nashville’s biggest music supporters.
Additionally, remote venue broadcasts will be a big part of WMOT’s community outreach, with shows originating from the Factory at Franklin, Acme Feed and Seed downtown, and The Family Wash in East Nashville.
WMOT/Roots Radio will broadcast and stream the 2016 Americana Awards Show and Red Carpet arrivals from the Ryman Auditorium on Sept. 21.
Founded in 1911 as one of three state normal schools for teacher training, Middle Tennessee State University is the oldest and largest undergraduate university in the Tennessee Board of Regents System. With a fall enrollment averaging more than 22,000 students for the past five years, MTSU remains committed to providing individualized service in an exciting and nurturing atmosphere where student success is the top priority. MTSU features eight undergraduate colleges and the College of Graduate Studies, and more than 140 programs and departments including accounting, aerospace, concrete industry management, music and recording industry. Offering a wide variety of nationally recognized programs at the baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral levels, MTSU takes pride in educating the best and the brightest students from Tennessee and around the world. For more information, call 615-898-2300, visit http://mtsu.edu/ or www.mtsunews.com. Follow MTSU on Twitter @MTSUNews and like us on Facebook.
About Music City Roots
Music City Roots is a weekly live radio show, HD webcast and annual series distributed by American Public Television featuring outstanding roots and Americana music based in or passing through Nashville. Since going on the air in October 2009, Music City Roots has broadcast the authentic sound of today’s Music City, embracing the traditional and the progressive in equal measure. The show reaches around 40 public radio partners on a syndicated basis and most of the U.S. through an annual 14-week series on American Public Television. Every Wednesday at 7 p.m. Central, four guest artists perform to an audience of 300 to 800 people in Liberty Hall in the Factory at Franklin, Tennessee. A professionally directed shoot of the show reaches thousands of viewers worldwide via Livestream.com, and as of September 2016, the show is broadcast live to the entire Midstate of Tennessee via 100,000-watt WMOT-FM/Roots Radio 89.5. Veteran Grand Ole Opry announcer Keith Bilbrey emcees with help from musical host, Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale and interviewer Craig Havighurst. The show was created and produced by Todd Mayo and John Walker and is supported by valued underwriting partners Nissan, Star 129, Ascend Federal Credit Union, Acceptance Auto Insurance and Vietti Chili. More information at www.musiccityroots.com.