Non-Commercial Radio Get-Together Happening at WXPN

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BY NATHAN LERNER

BLONDIE’S Debbie Harry


Philadelphia radio station WXPN will once again host the annual Non-COMMvention, Now in its 17th edition, the event is widely considered the premier national convocation of contemporary non-commercial music radio stations. It attracts both industry members and those, who are simply fans of the music.

Over the years, such big names such as Tom Jones, Willie Nelson, Mavis Staples, and Dr. John have entertained those in attendance. Augmenting the live performances, Non-COMM presents interviews with programmers, producers, composers, and musicians. These invariably provide interesting, behind the scenes perspectives on the music industry.

Performers headlining this year’s program will be Blondie, Paul Shaffer & The World’s Most Dangerous Band, The Pixies, and Ani DiFranco.

WXPN music director and afternoon radio host, Dan Reed, is the founder of Non-COMM and remains its Producer. As the name denotes, non-commercial radio stations are devoid of commercial advertising, Reed discussed the salient difference, “Non-comms have underwriting that is not very invasive or obnoxious.” He posited, “We would like to think-and tons of research would back this up-that non-commercial music radio listeners are more adventurous. They want to be challenged by new music.” Reed insisted, “The non-comm stations program to discerning music listeners.”

In 2001, Reed was at WFPK in Louisville and came up with the idea for Non-COMM. He recounted the precipitous: “I was noticing that the conference we were attending yearly didn’t really address the needs or concerns of non-commercial stations.” He added, “The music that they booked often didn’t coincide with what the non-comm stations were playing.” According to Reed, “The biggest obstacle that first year was just getting the word out.” When Reed moved to Philadelphia’s WXPN in 2004, Non-COMM came with him.

Reed described the event’s unwavering commitment to its original raison d’être, “The concept has remained the same; to give non-commercial, popular music-based stations a place to check out new music, meet with their colleagues from throughout the country, grab some ideas to take back to their stations, to have fun, and celebrate this crazy business we are in.”

Asked his criteria for programming acts, Reed emphatically responded, “Greatness, potential, as well as heritage to our stations and our audience.” He then conceded, “I always throw in at least one band that I want to see.”

Reed expanded, “What the programming staff around here does is listen to and discuss music. It’s the same for all the other stations out there that will attend Non-COMM. There’s this fuzzy concept of artists that have a buzz around them. We certainly try to get some of them booked.” He clarified, “The balance between the established acts and the up-and comers ends up being determined by who’s available.”

Reed observed, “The thing about booking established acts is that there’s no guess work-they are already popular. With the new bands, you’ve just got to trust your ears and your colleagues’ ears.” He mused, “Sometimes we’ve been right and sometimes we haven’t.” He ticked off Norah Jones, My Morning Jacket, and The Head and The Heart as examples of acts that were relatively obscure when they first played Non-COMM, who subsequently became successful.
Asked what the most gratifying part of Non-COMM was for him, Reed enthused “Just seeing everybody here. To think that people make their way to Philly for Non-COMM and that this get-together is important enough for them to justify the time and trouble of getting here is humbling and extremely rewarding to me.”

He cited one particularly fond memory, “My son, Max-I guess that he was 3 or 4–met John Cale. Max was carrying his Shrek doll around the lobby of the hotel. Cale came over, leaned down, told him that he loved his Shrek doll. He then told my son that he had sang in the movie. It was very sweet of John and I’ll never forget it.”

Reed exhorted people to join him at Non-COMM, contending, “All the cool kids will be here!”

Non-COMM will take place from Wednesday, May 17 through Friday, May 19. All events take place at WXPN/World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut Street. For further details on the schedule and other information, visit www.xpn.org/events/non-comm.

Nathan Lerner welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.

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