Mark Hayward's City Matters: A push for the return of hometown radio days
The 2000 Coen Brothers movie gem "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" includes an insightful scene when the faltering politician, Pappy O'Daniel, passes up a chance to press the flesh with the main characters.
"We ain't one-at-a-timin' here," Pappy says as he hurries into a tiny radio station. "We're mass communicatin'. "
Those were the halcyon days of radio, when the electromagnetic spectrum reigned over communication like the Internet does today.
And anyone — including musicians and dramatists — could mass communicate at the local radio stations. That cooling ember of radio nostalgia is being fanned by Manchester resident Rob Azevedo.
For an hour each week, he does his best to mass communicate the music that is being played and sung in our proverbial backyard.
Every Thursday, he hosts "Granite State of Mind" on WNHN-FM 94.7, a low-powered station located in the second-floor, walk-up studio just off Main Street in Concord.
The show is an on-air open mic show that welcomes local musicians, writers, comedians, entertainers and just about anyone who wants to be heard.
"There's only so many times you can hear Hootie & the Blowfish or The Eagles without losing your mind," said Azevedo, a 44-year-old whose full-time job is a salesman for a home health care company.
That salesmanship came across during an hour of banter and performance last Thursday night.
He gets folksy with Dusty Gray, a blues/country musician who lives up the street, to talk about his plans to pack it all up for Nashville.
He gets Jasmine Mann, a Manchester folk singer, to talk about being on food stamps.
And he gives Steven Guerrera, the bass player for the acoustic trio Far From Close, time to explain why his instrument lacks frets but has two extra strings.
"Rob is a wonderful man, welcoming. He truly cares about everyone," said Mann, who plays open mic in area clubs. A repeat performer, Mann found out about the show through an ad on Craigslist.
What's obvious about the hour is how laid back everything is. The carpeting is old, the studio walls are painted olive, and the electronic equipment — all full of nobs and plastic-topped switches — harken to those golden years of analog radio.
Station manager Brian Beihl said Azevedo's show represents what radio started as — a place where musicians could perform and maybe get recognized."That is the roots of radio," Beihl said. "For some of the larger commercial stations, they don't do that anymore."
He also said Azevedo's show draws a crowd that wouldn't otherwise tune into the station format of jazz, blues and progressive talk. (The WNHN signal barely reaches the North End of Manchester, but the station streams online, and its shows are podcast.)
For his part, Azevedo would love to see a low-powered FM in his own city. He envisions it in an Elm Street storefront, with a window the looks out on the street.
That might not be out of the realm of possibility. Last year, 23 New Hampshire organizations asked the FCC for low-powered FM licenses. Two were from Manchester, although Azevedo's show may not easily mesh with the applicants — St. Joseph Catholic Family Center and an offshoot of Manchester Community Television.
Beihl said the FCC has encouraged more low-power FM to counter the consolidation of commercial radio, where corporate interests control programming and often eliminate anything local.
But Beihl said the FCC moves at a slow pace. Don't expect more radio stations opening anytime soon.
So Azevedo will remain in Concord for awhile.
For him, it's another outlet for a guy who pushes his creativity to the limit. He also freelances for the Boston Globe and directs and produces films. His short film won the Outstanding New Hampshire Film Award at the 2013 SNOB Film Festival.
Once a week, he said, the show gives him a different identity. Turn on the microphone, and he's not a father of two or a salesman.
He's mass communicatin'.
"We all want to perform in one aspect or another," Azevedo said. "We all get something out of it. That's for sure."
Mark Hayward's City Matters appears Thursdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader and UnionLeader.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.