Working at City Court downtown as often as he does, attorney David Brown encounters crowds of residents, white and black. But during his bid for a state representative seat back in 2007, he began to look closer. Greeting those who were once mere faces in a crowd, Brown realized for the first time just how many Baton Rougeans are immigrants from Eastern Europe, Africa and South America.
“I want to hear from them,” says Brown, who hopes locals across the city won’t have to run for office to have the simple epiphany he did four years ago. “I want to know what Guatemalans in Baton Rouge are listening to and what life is like here for them.”
Thanks to the Baton Rouge Progressive Network, a local nonprofit Brown chairs, radio listeners citywide can now hear those kinds of stories from our area’s often-overlooked minority communities and dig into a playlist of regional music both old and new.
After years of fundraising efforts and planning, Baton Rouge Community Radio WHYR-LP 96.9-FM went live in June. Brown says the station’s aim is to uncover untold narratives of the city and help foster healthy dialog and debate on a wide swathe of social issues.
“We can really contribute to the enrichment of the Baton Rouge community by telling everybody’s story and handing the mic to people who haven’t had the mic before,” Brown says. “For me it is two words: ‘melting pot.’ Two more would be ‘think tank.’”
Rachael Hebert is one of the programming directors for the station. She understands some of the early NPR comparisons WHYR received even before airing a single program, but she says Baton Rouge Community Radio is unique in its blend of local music and stories with syndicated programming from the likes of Pacifica and Democracy Now! A War and Peace Report.
“It’s a nice mix,” Hebert says. “We’re aiming for about 40% talk and 60% music.”
Honduras native and popular local DJ Otto Orellana volunteered early to help the fledgling station cultivate its strong sonic voice. Playing quality songs outside of the constraints of commercial radio was a key draw for the veteran disc spinner.
“There is so much fantastic indigenous music to our area—Cajun and Zydeco, New Orleans stuff and jazz,” Orellana says. “And being able to talk about music outside of a commercial context is important, too. We want this station to offer a perfect blend of a lot of good things.”
At Radio Bar, that perfect blend will be in the ear of the listener. Every patron at the Mid City neighborhood tavern will have a chance to play deejay by selecting songs on an iPad that will play over the venue’s sound system and simultaneously stream live on the Internet. More experienced mixologists are slated to play regular sets from an old-school deejay booth overlooking the many tables and three glassed garage-style doors of the 2,400-square-foot nightspot. Others will produce original podcasts for the online station.
Co-owned by Chelsea’s Café and Cuban Liquor owner David Remmetter, Radio Bar is the brainchild of veteran Baton Rouge photographer Brian Baiamonte and is slated to open soon on Government Street in a corner space near Kerry Beary’s Atomic Pop Shop, Time Warp Boutique and Bricks & Bombs gallery—a funky and eclectic stretch of homegrown establishments. Mounting curiosity in this up-and-coming area could fuel Radio Bar’s success.
“Based on the amount of people who walked in just while we were doing construction, we should have a load of walk-ins once we’re actually open,” says Baiamonte, who is organizing a series of themed radio shows and podcasts produced by a group of Baton Rouge’s music-loving creative class.
Remmetter’s relocation of Chelsea’s Café in 2006 created a new neighborhood favorite at the Perkins Road Overpass, and the entrepreneur envisions Radio Bar becoming a similarly casual happy hour hangout, meeting place and magnet for more neighborhood-wide events, like the popular biannual White Light Night art hop.
“I don’t drink much, so it’s more about having a community gathering place than anything,” says Marsanne Golsby, a media relations professional whose home is located near the bar. “Mid City is a great neighborhood, almost like a ‘Spanish Town East’ where everyone knows each other. Having Radio Bar will make this neighborhood I love even more attractive.”
For more information on Baton Rouge Community Radio programs, visit whyr.org. For updates on Radio Bar, visit theradiobar.com.