KWNK Community Radio: Low-power station with big voice

Tahoe Onstage
KWNK DJs, from left: Joseph (Euphoric Cacophony), Sweet T (Night Gems), Blake (Pop Slop Shop), Ben (The Spacement), Annie (Emoji Playlist).
Shaun Astor / Tahoe Onstage

Down a semi-non descript street just outside of Reno’s midtown neighborhood sits the office and studio space for KWNK 97.7 FM, Reno’s new on-air, free-form community radio station.

Having been one of the local landscape’s only broadcasting entities to take advantage of a recent Federal Communications Commission opening for low-power FM broadcasters, KWNK has emerged as Reno’s only free-form radio station. That the station appeared concurrent with the city’s seemingly exponential growth may be a coincidence, but the station also has found and positioned itself as the emerging DIY voice within Reno’s still wildly gritty and stubbornly uncommercial arts scene.

Station general manager Thomas Snider explained that he initially became involved with the station when he attended the University of Nevada, Reno,  and developed an interest in broadcasting at the Wolfpack Radio program. He saw the potential of a low-power FM radio station of encouraging students to explore the larger Reno community. It was while he was at the university that the original low-power permit holders approached him to help get the new  station on the air.

“It wasn’t until 2017 that we started to fundraise,” Snider explains. “Funding was hard to gather essentially for something that wasn’t on the air.” On Halloween of 2017, KWNK went live with a limited broadcasting schedule, remaining on air from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. daily, drawing programming from a mix of local volunteer DJs and Wolfpack Radio programming.

KWNK’s heart lies in Its varied voices and programming

“Music and travel are two of my biggest passions,” says Fil Corbitt, who hosts a program called Van Sounds that incorporates storytelling based around scenarios encountered on his travels. “I really appreciate bridging the gap between the two. With podcasts, there’s so much more room to bring your listeners into different topics entirely.”

Corbitt’s work has appeared on NPR stations, but living locally, he became involved with KWNK’s programming from the beginning. Hosting a show that would fit perfectly in the audio narrative format of shows such as “This American Life,” Corbitt recently held a live presentation of his program at the studio, just one in a series of live shows and performances the station has hosted in its space.

The station also airs a wide variety of musical programming. Snider explains that programming is based on the creative control of each of its DJs. “The main guidelines are that the shows are theme-based and well-thought out,” he said.

What has resulted is programming that will air poetry or food and drink-based chatter, and music across the spectrum, from lo-fi  and local pop to underground and mainstream hip-hop to noise rock and metal to film soundtracks and extended blocks of esoteric instrumental soundscapes.

One thing that emerges in speaking with the DJs and programmers is a passion for music and the associated moods and textures that it can create. While commercial stations hover in the realm of Top 40 big-name/marketed acts and DJ-less playlists of the same large pool of songs set on “random,” sitting down with a few of the volunteer programmers at KWNK made it immediately clear how much energy and thought goes into curating each one’s respective shows.

“I play a lot of emerging artists. I’ll try to choose songs that have a similar sound or texture,” says Sweet T, who hosts a show called Night Gems. “I associate music with color, very visually, so I like to match sounds with each other and make sure that the textures mesh well.”

Annie, who hosts a show called Emoji Playlist, explains her song selection: “I pick an emoji and then play an hour of music based on that emoji. I love sharing something so personal, it’s a way to be an introvert in front of people.”

While Tha Duke, who hosts a show called Tha Duke Abides, talks about how his musical selections vary with each show. “I try to give myself a theme – I don’t even necessarily announce my theme.. My background is in musical performance, and I’ll play everything from black American folk singers to jazz to hip-hop to dance music.”

Amidst Reno’s growth, a foundation of creatives takes shape

As Reno continues to grow, its creative communities are beginning to take a more defined shape within that space. The Holland Project has found a permanent space to host all-ages arts programs and live shows, The Saint has found itself at the center of the musical community, The Bluebird has established itself in the city’s booming EDM scene, and now KWNK has claimed airwave space as a much more inclusive and interactive part of the community.

“I think Reno just really needed a station like this. We’re not a small town, but we didn’t really have a creative outlet. The station is just very organic and genuine,” Sweet T explains.

KWNK currently airs shows from 80 DJs, although it is still broadcasting only between 4 p.m 4 a.m. Currently, it can be heard at 97.7 on the FM dial within the Reno area, but the station’s goal is to quickly expand its reach and their programming.

“The first step was getting the station on the air, the next is taking the station 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and streaming online,” Snider said. “We don’t have the operating budget to that yet, but we’re getting to show the community the preview.”

To help raise funding, the station is currently in its initial membership drive.

For more information on programming, events and the membership fund drive, go to KWNKradio.org, or follow the stations Instagram at www.instagram.com/kwnk97.7/ for daily programming updates.

– Author Shaun Astor hosts a show called Nocturnal Transmissions on KWNK

ABOUT Shaun Astor

Shaun Astor
Shaun Astor cites pop music singers and social deviants as being among his strongest influences. His vices include vegan baking, riding a bicycle unreasonable distances and fixating on places and ideas that make up the subject of the sentence, "But that’s impossible…" He splits his time between Reno and a hammock perched from ghost town building foundations. Check out his work at www.raisethestakeseditions.com

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