The blues duo Jimi V and Screamin’ John were on stage last month at Kentuckiana Blues Society’s 22nd Anniversary Celebration, tearing their way through “Rollin’ and Tumblin.” But the capacity crowd at the Vernon Club, 1575 Story Ave., wasn’t the only audience the duo was entertaining. Their set was also being broadcast on Crescent Hill Radio (CHR), a low-watt AM and Internet radio station that is piping Louisville music to the world.
“Radio is a whole different game now,” says Screamin’ John, in the dressing room after his set. “While we were on stage, I got a text from my girlfriend’s mother that said, ‘You sound great over the computer.’ Technology is turning things in the artists’ favor because we’re able to expose more people to the music.”
The availability of Wi-Fi-enabled devices and greater access to broadband in the home is affecting the way people listen to radio. Shoutcast, an Internet radio directory, lists more than 43,000 free Internet radio stations. One of the newest is CHR, available at AM1650 and at www.chradio.net.
CHR founder Kathy Weisbach is using state-of-the-art technology to return radio to its roots, literally. During the day, CHR offers old-time radio shows from the ‘20s and ‘30s that have entered the public domain. And lately, the station has added community announcements and live broadcasts along with the music. “At this point, the radio station is still 90 percent play list, but I’m starting to branch out on the live recordings,” Weisbach explains. “It’s nice, too, when there is a real local event, like the Fourth of July Picnic. I can broadcast that live and you can hear it right in the area. It’s fun and it gets me out to places I want to go.”
There are other internet radio stations in Louisville. The BYRCC House, a non-profit youth organization, has operated www.wxbh.org for several years. What makes CHR so unusual is that it is a one-woman operation. Weisbach runs the station out of the basement of her home on Birchwood Avenue. The signal travels from her computer to a one-watt AM transmitter that sits atop a building she owns on Frankfort Avenue. It only covers a few blocks of Crescent Hill.
“I heard from some neighbors who say they get the station, but I can’t even get it at my house,” Weisbach says. “That’s the problem with AM – the hills and valleys really affect it. The people on Frankfort Avenue listen to it all the time and I have some neighbors who say they do. Most of the people listen online.”
Weisbach, 50, grew up in Louisville, playing bass and banjo in a number of bands. She was restoring her grandfather’s old AM radio earlier this year when she thought how great it would be to listen to the old-time radio plays over it. While searching for a transmitter that would allow her MP3 player to transmit an AM signal, she came across a website selling low-frequency transmitters. It also had information from the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 47, Part 15, which governs unlicensed low-powered radio stations. The FCC allows common citizens to operate low-powered stations if the signal is limited to 200 feet. The prohibition was put in place because commercial stations and National Public Radio were afraid that amateur stations would bleed into their signal. Weisbach said the signal constraints are not much of a problem because the Internet is the great equalizer.
“It cost me about $1,000 for the transmitter,” Weisbach says. “I have run sound for bands for years, so I had a lot of the stuff I needed. The big thing I had to learn was programming. I bought a program that is an automated play list. When we’re not doing live shows, I can set up a template for which genre of music to play. It’s all local and I have to get everyone’s permission in order not to break copyright law. I still can’t violate the copyright laws and I have to watch out for profanity.”
Crescent Hill Radio plays everything from bluegrass to rap music. Eventually, Weisbach would like to make it a non-profit and use grants to buy more transmitters to expand the signal. Low-frequency broadcasters can have as many transmitters as they want as long as they are low-watt.
Since Weisbach started the radio station in April, she has received music from all over the world, thanks to her listing in several Internet radio directories. But she is focused on Kentuckiana artists. To be played on CHR, an artist simply needs to upload their music to the station’s website and give Weisbach permission to play it. CHR also has talk shows that are hosted by people who record the contents on their own and e-mail it to her. Comedian Janelle Fitzpatrick hosts “Laughs on the Hill,” a local Tuesday night comedy talk show; Rachel Goodman hosts the jazz show “Jazz It Up” on Wednesdays; and “From The Inkwell,” a writing show hosted by Sheri L. Wright, runs on Saturday afternoons. But the most popular show on the station is “Kentuckiana Blues Hour” on Fridays, hosted by Gary Sampson, Kentuckiana Blues Society president.
“It’s a great way for local and regional blues acts to get their music out, because there are so few places for them,” says Sampson. “What really makes Crescent Hill Radio different is that it’s our music. When you are listening, it could be your sister, brother or cousin on there. She’s really doing a community service.”