The WWOZ On The Road project is a side effect of Hurricane Katrina. In the year after the storm, the station received $80,000 in combined donations from 31 radio stations around the country. The desperately needed support kept the station afloat; particularly since staff were unable to hold the annual fall fund drive.
"We came back in the spring and guess what? We had the mother of all drives," Freedman says, estimating that that first post-K drive brought in nearly double the usual support. "So what I said was, we're going to repurpose the money [the stations] sent us, and we're going to buy a big-ass truck." Insurance funds replaced the small truck the station had used to broadcast from Jazz Fest and other remote local venues in the past. With the donations, WWOZ bought a 26-foot vehicle outfitted to broadcast and made for interstate travel.
"Essentially, we have a portable radio station; so if we have another weather event we can drive that bad boy out of town, and then three days later, we can come right back and start broadcasting right from the truck. It has its own generator, its own antenna, its own transmitter. But in the meantime, we don't have to wait for catastrophes to use the truck," Freedman says.
Freedman put the call letters for each donating station on the truck and told them that if any of them were ever off the air in a Katrina-like event, the truck was theirs to use. With underwriting from the jazz venue Club 528 for three mobile festival broadcast events, the station started planning some road trips. In early August, a small crew -- head engineer Damond Jacob, program director Dwayne Brashears and volunteer Scott Borne -- flew to St. Croix and broadcast live from the St. Croix Sunset Jazz event. (The trip was funded by an economic development group from St. Croix.) Two weeks later, they traveled to the Telluride Jazz Celebration in Colorado. The grant from Club 528 covered Telluride and two upcoming trips to festivals in Detroit (Sept. 1-3) and San Diego (Sept. 9).
Freedman hopes to meet with Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu to try to secure state funding for future remote festival broadcasts. "WWOZ can create the same kind of hospitality space in the middle of a music tent that we do at Jazz Fest," he said. "It's an opportunity to promote Louisiana culture in the middle of an event full of people who paid a substantial amount of money to travel to a pretty distant place to enjoy music. That sounds like your prime candidate for tourism here in New Orleans," he says.
"As a result of the festivals we've done so far, other ones have contacted us and said, 'Hey, can you guys come to us,'" says Brashears. In November, they'll return to St. Croix for the islandwide Blue Bay Jazz Festival, which also has a heavy roster of New Orleans musicians on the bill, including Henry Butler, Troy Andrews, Kermit Ruffins and others. Freedman said he hopes the WWOZ crew can encourage some locals to travel to that event as well. "It'll be like New Orleans invading the island," he said.
Freedman said that he plans to hire a full-time engineer and music director specifically to work on WWOZ On The Road, and hopes to keep the effort going to the greatest extent possible. "We're going to do it as much as we can," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, if we find sponsors we'll keep 'em on the road all year long."
Alison Fensterstock is a substitute DJ on WWOZ.
- Photo courtesy of Scott Borne