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The Great and Powerful 'OZ

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Dec. 4

WWOZ 30th Anniversary Second Line Parade

Noon Saturday

Starts at Elysian Fields Avenue at Decatur Street; www.ww'OZ.org

WWOZ 30th Birthday Bash

10 p.m. Saturday

Tipitina's, 501 Napoleon Ave., 895-8477; www.tipitinas.com

Tickets $10 in advance, $12 at the door

The more things change, the more they stay the same at New Orleans' listener-supported radio station WWOZ 90.7 FM.

  "We're the voice, the archive and the flag-bearer of New Orleans music," says general manager David Freedman.

  Known to followers as 'OZ, the station marks its official 30th birthday Saturday, Dec. 4, with a second line parade and concert. The station has come a long way since a group of community radio activists first started broadcasting taped shows from a beacon on the West Bank. As 'OZ streams over the Internet to an ever-increasing membership and listenership, it has much to celebrate.

Dr. John visits the studio of WWOZ at its former location in Armstrong Park in 1998. - PHOTO BY AL KENNEDY
  • Photo by Al Kennedy
  • Dr. John visits the studio of WWOZ at its former location in Armstrong Park in 1998.

  "We still have totally local programming," Freedman says. "People can tune in and have a New Orleans experience.".

  WWOZ found its first home on the second floor of Tipitina's and sometimes dropped a microphone down to broadcast live shows. Local musicians embraced the station, and it became both an alternative to nationally driven commercial radio and a pillar in the local music scene. Many remember it for the freewheeling antics of guests and DJs like Ernie K. Doe, who perpetually howled "Burn, K-Doe, burn!" on air. The station moved to Armstrong Park in 1984, and in 1987, its broadcast license was transferred to Friends of WWOZ, a nonprofit established by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation. Through the years, it has remained a largely volunteer-operated station. Currently, there is a pool of 500 volunteers and 100 show hosts, who are free to play the music they choose.

  Its colorful character and mission to give airtime to local musicians has regularly been recognized. In the early 1980s, Andy Warhol declared it the best radio station in the world. In 2008, Rolling Stone magazine named it one of the nation's five best radio stations, and Esquire lauded it as the Internet Radio Station of the Year.

  Freedman has always tried to keep 'OZ at the forefront of available technology — there are 'OZ apps for iPhone and Androids. Particularly since Hurricane Katrina, the station's Internet listenership has grown (it began streaming in 1995). New Orleanians in exile listened to the station for news of the whereabouts of musicians. And now significant amounts of station listenership (Freedman estimates at least 80 percent) and members (50 percent) live outside the reach of its radio signal. And listeners at 60 radio stations around the country tune in every week for a shared program combining music and features on local culture called "New Orleans All the Way Live," produced by George Ingmire.

  Anniversary events kick off with a second line parade featuring the Treme Brass Band, Black Men of Labor, the Wild Tchoupitoulas Mardi Gras Indians and Camel Toe Lady Steppers. It departs from Elysian Fields Avenue and Decatur Street at noon and travels through the Faubourg Marigny and French Quarter. In the evening, a concert at Tipitina's features Theresa Andersson, Kirk Joseph, John "Papa" Gros, Willie Green, Shamarr Allen, DJ Soul Sister and others. There will be festivities throughout the 30th year — which makes sense for a station that continues to grow.

  "As much as we do, there's five times more things we want to do," Freedman says. "We're growing into a larger station, we're providing more services."

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