With the advent of iPods, satellite radio, and streaming music on our “smart” phones, there is not much reason to listen to the radio anymore. Why would we, after all, when mainstream radio would have you believe that Lady Gaga actually makes “music” or that Metallica or The Red Hot Chili Peppers are still relevant?

If you are as intolerant of the FM dial as I am (and have been for at least the last fifteen years) then you might want to check out WNCW. A public radio station broadcasting out of Spindale, NC, WNCW features an eclectic mix of rock, blues, folk, bluegrass, reggae, and just about everything else you will never hear on commercial radio. 

WNCW has been broadcasting for over 20 years and my father has been listening to it for most of them. In my younger years, the station’s format was too foreign to me. There was not enough rap, no metal at all, and too much in general that I just could not relate to. Even if I enjoyed some of what I heard, the narrow mind of a teenager and young adult would not allow me to sort through hours of new music that spanned more genres every hour than I had even begun to listen to in my young life. 

Fortunately, one of the side effects of the aging process is a broadening of one’s horizons and I gave WNCW another chance when I returned to the Upstate in 2003. I had always avoided the recycled “hits” of the mainstream dial but my explorations of new music were limited to what I found on the still-young internet or what was recommended by the rare friend whose musical tastes I respected. WNCW brought me back to the FM dial in a much greater capacity than I had ever experienced.

My love for WNCW can basically be explained like this: I drive a 12 year old Subaru. My wife drives a two year old Nissan Maxima.  This is basically the difference between a Wright Brother’s airplane and The Millennium Falcon but the single most important feature of her car is the quality of the radio reception. Sure, the extra 130 horsepower is nice and the smoothness of the ride is light years beyond any other car I have ever driven, but the fact that WNCW always comes in crystal clear in her car and I do not have to battle poor reception until I am about 15 miles closer to Greenville from Anderson is, as Visa says, priceless.

The biggest difference between WNCW and mainstream radio is the concept that WNCW is a “listener powered” radio station. The station’s survival is dependent on listener interest and contributions so instead of a format where the station tells the listeners what is popular, WNCW plays what the listeners actually want to hear. The resulting format features local, regional, and underground artists that you will not hear anywhere else. Additionally, these artists are often more accessible to see live at local or regional venues that will not break the bank like a trip to a coliseum show will.

WNCW primarily features their own programming throughout the day with a great mix of regional and “big-time” artists as well as live in-studio performances. They also feature some syndicated programming from National Public Radio to compliment their homegrown shows. NPR’s Morning Edition is a nice alternative to conventional news radio in the morning and World Café sets a bigger musical stage for WNCW for the ride home from work in the evening. 

The broadcast range is much wider than your average radio station. The strongest signal comes from WNCW’s home base in Spindale, NC on 88.7.  Other locations on the dial include 100.3 (Charlotte) and 92.9 (Boone). Also, WNCW offers live streaming of all its programs and a complete playlist on its website so you can look up the artist and song title you may have liked when you were tuned in earlier. 

WNCW has something for everyone but the eclectic nature of the format means that everything will not necessarily appeal to all of us simultaneously. For example, WNCW features “Frank on Fridays” where they play an hour of Frank Zappa tracks from noon to 1 pm. Personally, I try to schedule my day around catching this feature, but I also realize that Zappa is an acquired taste, to say the least. On the other hand, I enjoy bluegrass when it appears mixed in with the general playlists , but an entire Saturday of it tends to get a little much for me. My father is a loyal WNCW listener that strays from the radio on Wednesday nights when The Grateful Dead Hour comes on, which I am sure is sacrilege for many of WNCW’s fans. 

The point is - if you listen to WNCW and do not like the first song you hear, just wait and listen to the next one. If you can listen to an hour of programming and do not prefer it to any other station on the dial, well…. enjoy the new Britney Spears album.