When the internet developed to the point at which it could support high-quality audio and video, pundits prognosticated the imminent death of terrestrial radio. But in the same way that streaming music hasn’t spelled the end of vinyl records, FM radio remains a viable and creative medium.
Local station WSFM-LP — better known as 103.3 Asheville FM — began broadcasting on-air in 2015 (with an online presence since 2009). Today, the nonprofit community radio station occupies an important place in the city’s cultural firmament. Underscoring Asheville FM’s role in the regional music and arts scene, the station is partnering with area businesses to present Real People, Great Radio, a compilation record showcasing local musical artists.
Set for release ahead of this year’s third annual Record Fair, Real People, Great Radio features 10 Asheville-based acts. Each performed an original track on the record. All sessions took place at Drop of Sun Studios in West Asheville.
Local musician, producer and Asheville FM deejay Greg Cartwright assisted with the 10-song compilation. Multiple events, he notes, inspired the project.
“Whenever it’s time for an Asheville FM fund drive, we [offer] a promotional premium for people who donate to the station,” he says. In the past, the station had organized raffles and offered branded tote bags and T-shirts. But this time around, everyone involved wanted to take things to the next level.
Happenstance aligned this year’s fundraiser with Asheville FM’s annual Record Fair, which takes place Saturday, Sept. 10, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. at Harrah’s Cherokee Center – Asheville. “So it seemed like a great match to do a record,” Cartwright continues. “And we wanted to do something that’s about local music and some of the assets that are there for local bands and artists.”
Cartwright emphasizes that even though Asheville is a comparatively small city, it’s home to a robust music infrastructure. “There are lots of cool recording studios,” he says. “And there’s also a record-pressing plant. Tying all those things together to show off some of what Asheville has is a really good idea.”
Diverse cast, eclectic lineup
In addition to partnering with Drop of Sun Studios, Cartwright and the Asheville FM team worked with Citizen Vinyl. The downtown Asheville pressing plant manufactured the records, providing the critical final link in the chain of this all-local endeavor.
Cartwright says that beyond the local focus, there was an additional goal when curating the selections. “We wanted to be as diverse as possible,” he says. “We’re trying to [create] an experience where every song is something a little bit different.”
And the eclectic Real People, Great Radio succeeds on that score. Fleur Geurl (the solo project of Asheville musician Danielle McConaghy) conjures a dreamy, contemplative vibe with “The Woods.” Meanwhile, Lewis Dahm of Walkhome notes his band’s track, “The End,” captures the group’s tendency to create “dumb songs played smart,” naming The Jesus and Mary Chain, Oasis and The Beatles among primary inspirations. And improvisational percussionist Thom Nguyen describes his track, “Residual Reflection,” as an example of the experimental technique known as musique concrète, which uses recorded sounds as raw material.
Additionally, prolific local rock band Powder Horns turns in the hardest-rocking cut on the Asheville FM collection, “Cherub.” Other artists featured on the compilation include Astoria, BEX, gator pools, Adriana McCassim, Secret Shame and Dexter Webb.
“People will always find good music in every genre,” says Brett J Kent, Powder Horns’ leader and songwriter. “That’s what drives me, and I know I’m not alone.”
Here comes the Sun
Drop of Sun Studios’ Sara Jane Whatley says that she was excited when she had a brainstorming session with Cartwright and Asheville FM station’s General Manager KP Whaley. The studio is within sight of the radio station on Haywood Road, and Whatley says that partnering “was always a goal.” She adds that it was important to the studio — which launched in 2015 and moved to its current location in 2021 — to be “in community with already existing pillars of the Asheville music scene.”
Whatley says that Real People, Great Radio was a “passion project” for Adam McDaniel, founder, owner and producer/engineer at Drop of Sun, who curated the 10-track record. “It never felt like an option to skimp on making it something we loved,” Whatley continues. “This record feels like the ethos of Drop of Sun.”
She notes that her most cherished moment of the entire project was when she, McDaniel and studio co-founder Alex Farrar sat down in the control room and listened to the finished LP in its entirety. “I felt so excited and so proud,” Whatley says.
‘Weird music selected by nerds’
First launched as an online station, Asheville FM expanded its reach to the airwaves after then-President Barack Obama signed the Local Community Radio Act of 2010 into law. Classified as a low-power station, WSFM-LP is powered by a mere 100 watts, giving it a limited broadcast area. But the nonprofit continues to webcast live in real time at ashevillefm.org and recently launched an app. In addition, many programs are archived online.
The station’s alternative approach to the more ubiquitous commercial, market-driven radio model is what binds the diverse set of bands that helped create Real People, Great Radio.
“Community radio stations like Asheville FM play a crucial role in giving voice to the local artists,” says Fleur Geurl’s McConaghy. “They enable individuals, groups and communities to tell their own stories, and they keep those living in the community connected to their neighbors.”
Dahm of Walkhome observes that streaming platforms and user-targeted algorithms have the effect of “flattening out our interaction” with music. “As a listener, I’d rather just turn on a trusted station that I know will be playing weird music selected by nerds,” Dahm says. “It feels good to have no control over what I’m about to hear. And it feels even better when I know there’s someone who cares on the other end.”
Just the beginning
This year’s Record Fair is slated to feature 30 vinyl record dealers. The event, says Whaley, will be “an all-day record-shopping experience.” All proceeds from admission will help fund the nonprofit’s operations.
And two of the artists featured on Real People, Great Radio are scheduled to perform live at the event. Fleur Girl will play at 12:30 p.m., and Powder Horns will perform at 1 p.m. Both sets will include the artists’ songs as featured on the Asheville FM compilation.
The new album, notes Cartwright, is just the beginning, as he’s already contemplating future volumes. “There’s a lot of diversity in this compilation,” he says. “But there’s a lot more diversity in Asheville, and I’d like to continue to reach in all different directions.”
Tickets for the third annual Record Fair are a suggested $5-$10. VIP tickets are $15 and include early admission at 10 a.m. For more information, visit avl.mx/byf.
Editor’s note: This article was updated on Sept. 15 to accurately reflect Adam McDaniel’s role as curator for the Real People, Great Radio, compilation.