Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Why I finally decided it was time to become a member of WXPN

No doubt many of you are already members of WXPN, the University of Pennsylvania's very fine public radio station. The station fills a wonderful niche on the local FM dial (you can find them at 88.5 if you are curious)because it plays music that you just never hear anywhere else.

XPN plays a wide variety of music: Alternative, alt-country, classic R&B, folk, the blues, confessional singer/songwriters and, best of all in my book, world music. You just never hear such a wide range of music anywhere else. Best of all, it is "listener supported." That means there are no commercial interruptions in the programming. People who listen to the station tend to be hardcore music aficionados like myself. It is one of the very few stations in the city that can honestly claim to support new artists.

I long have resisted becoming a member of XPN. I am somewhat chagrined to say why. For many years I just shrugged my shoulders and said to myself: "why pay for something that's free"? Call me a cheapskate. I enjoyed the music, but never paid for it. I listened to the station primarily because the music programming was provided without commercials, which are more annoying than a toothache. I justified my penurious behavior by telling myself I listened more to CDs in the car more than I did my radio. And when I don't have a CD handy that I want to hear, I am just as likely to listen to sports talk radio as I am XPN.

All of that changed with one simple moment on Sunday evening.

I was walking toward Citizen Band Park with my son and my brother to attend Game 2 of the National League Championship series between the Phils and the Giants. As we approached the park, we passed a six-piece brass band who were playing their faces off. They were making a joyous noise; loud, raucous, upbeat and extremely funky. They called themselves Philly Soul. The band leader, Joe Miller, told me they were members of the Cheyney University marching band, and had gotten together to entertain Phillies fans at home games since July. He said they had not yet played a paid gig in a club, but man they sure sounded ready! For five or six minutes, they played an extended jam, the same 12-bar riff, but it never became repetitive. They reminded me a lot of the Rebirth Jazz Band I had seen in New Orlenas at the Jazz Festival two years ago. To put it indelicately, they were kicking ass.

Thousands of fans streamed pass the band. You could tell -- just by looking at the their smiles -- that many of them were enjoying the band as much as I was. There was an open instrument case in front of the band and it had been generously filled by passers-by, but as I watched for several minutes, no one kicked in so much as a quarter. I called a friend to let her listen to the music for a minute and the tuba player got in my face and blew his horn directly into my cell phone. It was a beautiful moment. I appreciated his gesture as much as he seemed to appreciate mine. His eyes were alive with laughter.

I was about to turn away and head to the game when I saw a white-haired gent with a neatly trimmed beard stop to hear the band. He listened with discriminating ears for about a minute and -- without hesitation -- reached into his wallet and pulled out a sawbuck. He dropped it in the kitty and quickly went on his way to find his seat at the ballpark. I grabbed my son's elbow and told him: "hey! that's David Dye!"

Dye is one of the city's preeminant music on-air personalities and the host of my favorite XPN show, the World Cafe. It's become a National Public Radio Network mainstay and is syndicated to dozens of public radio stations around the country. At that moment, I finally realized how committed he was to his job: that it wasn't "just a job" but a calling. And I realized I had to do my part too.

I kicked in a five spot to Philly Soul, asked my brother to capture some footage of them with his camera after the game and decided it was high time to become a member of the station. This is my way of thanking Dye and his cohorts at XPN for giving me years of listening pleasure: music to listen to, to dance by, to think with. You can hear a small taste of the Philly Soul band on this raw footage, provide by my brother, Matt.

Enjoy! And the next time you see street buskers playing their butts off for you, do a random act of kindness like David Dye did! Every little bit helps. You're supporting the arts after all!~

Matt's video clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETN1FsGbjEI

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