Saturday, February 7, 2009

Southern Illinois-- it's nowhere near Chicago!

Things are moving slow (but steady) down here in Southern Illinois. I believe we have many of the necessary ingredients for a vibrant music scene, but we're still quite a ways from being truly inclusive of more experimental work.

Southern Illinois has been fortunate to have WDBX-FM, a not-for-profit community radio station. Due to WDBX's inclusive, highly-eclectic format, I've been able to present experimental music and sound art for the past seven years on my radio show, "It's Too Damn Early." The station has grown tremendously since its founding-- we are now broadcasting at 3000 watts throughout most of Southern Illinois, as well as streaming live online.

Although WDBX is not affiliated with our local college, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, the regular influx of Chicago-raised students often helps bring interesting ideas and viewpoints to our area. Of course, the somewhat transient student population is difficult to rely on in the long-term-- building a regular listenership among students is a task performed over and over with little net gain. Gathering a local listenership has been more difficult, and many of the techniques Gerard described in his previous post can easily be applied here. The trick seems to be staying flexible and attentive to the needs of my listeners, as well as providing a helpful and valuable environment for visiting musicians.

I often feel a greater burden on my part with visiting musicians. Although Carbondale is somewhat conveniently located on the way to and from St. Louis, Chicago, Memphis, and Nashville; many seem to prefer traveling between Chicago, Bloomington, IN and St. Louis-- often bypassing Southern Illinois completely. When I DO convince someone to come down; I'll often try to get some advance notice in the local entertainment press, blog about it, make a promo spot, etc... a little professionalism goes a long way.

Because Southern Illinois does not yet have any sort of regular venue for this sort of music, I have tried to make my show a central place for locals interested in or performing it. This past year; I hosted two DVD "screenings" of experimental music and film, presented a handful of live performing artists, and participated in a local documentary about experimental music.

Right now, one of my main challenges is drawing live performers. I've had some luck with paying close attention to musicians coming through St. Louis, particularly those performing at the Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center. Some musicians have been able to add "It's Too Damn Early" to their day's itinerary-- with the show airing between 4 and 6:30 a.m. Saturday mornings, it's relatively easy to drop in after a Friday night show or before a Saturday evening elsewhere. My experience has been that the musicians benefit from increased exposure and airplay, and we benefit locally from the exposure to new ideas and methods.

Another challenge is people's awareness of Southern Illinois-- we've got 300,000 people down here in a rather tight-knit bunch of communities, but Illinois is often perceived to end just south of Chicago... or on a good day, at Champaign. I'm not sure how much can be done about this, frankly.

Of course, I'm also interested to see how Fire Music's cooperation among presenters and venues will pan out. It will be nice to get to know everyone a little better, and to be able to recommend other broadcasts and venues to interested musicians in the future. A bit of organization on our collective part could be a tremendous help.

--DaveX, "It's Too Damn Early," Carbondale IL

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