88Nine Radio Milwaukee

November 20, 2014


The Midwest has a rich history of broadcast stations that have made their unique mark on the industry—both commercial and non-commercial alike. This month we visit Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Milwaukee is the largest city in the state of Wisconsin, and the 31st largest city in the United States. The city is perhaps best known for its many breweries, and of course the baseball team named for those breweries, but it is also a home to a very diverse population, as well as a thriving music and cultural scene. Genres covered in the local musical landscape range everywhere from Jazz and Classical to Rock, Metal, Punk, Hip Hop, and everything in between. The city has also hosted a number of well known club DJs. Nationally known bands that have come from the Milwaukee music scene include the Violent Femmes, the BoDeans, and many others.

serves the city with a unique outlet for new music from local bands, playing at least two tracks from local bands each hour. Many of these bands would likely not receive airtime anywhere else. The station aims to serve as a common gathering place for the community, both on the air and physically at the station. Their mission is to be “a catalyst for creating a better, more inclusive and engaged Milwaukee” and “reach a new generation of radio listeners with an entertaining and adventurous selection of music and public affairs programming.”

A warm and inviting public common area greets visitors to Radio Milwaukee. The space connects between the station''s main entrance and a local coffee shop. Large overhead doors open and allow this common area to become an extension of the main performance venue for live events.

History

88.9 WYMS has been on the air in Milwaukee since 1973 and is licensed to Milwaukee Public Schools. The station for many years had broadcast Jazz music with a mix of ethnic programming (particularly polka music) on the weekends. In 2002, the station''s operations were handed over to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for a period of time after the school district suffered a budget shortfall.

A large collection of Jazz LPs gives a nod to the station''s history.

Radio For Milwaukee

In 2003, the school district sought proposals for a nonprofit group to run the station under LMA. A nonprofit startup known as Radio For Milwaukee had a distinct vision to hyper-serve the community with locally focused programming completely different from what was available through existing commercial and non-commercial outlets. By 2004, they had an agreement with the school district in place and began to execute their vision.

After several years spent figuring out exactly what the “sound” of Milwaukee is (no small task due to the diverse musical genres represented in the town) and how best to serve the community, made its long-awaited debut on WYMS in 2007 from the existing studios located at the Milwaukee Public Schools administration building.

88Nine Main Control Room

The main control room includes a small performance space with a separate mixer for live bands which feeds into the Axia network for broadcast.

“Studio Milwaukee” main performance area



“Milwaukee proud” programming

Walls also function as whiteboards—This particular one is the 414 Music lineup

With 21 employees, six of whom are in the programming department, produces all but a small portion of its program schedule locally. Their goal is to bring the “best of the best” to their audience. The lineup includes programs such as “Discover New Music” focused (as the name suggests) on new music; “414 Music Live” which brings local artists into the spotlight (414 is Milwaukee''s area code); “AMKE” which is Radio Milwaukee''s morning show including music, interviews and community affairs; “The Rhythm Lab” with a distinctly urban sound; “The Saturday Session” inviting local DJs into the studio for interviews and music sets; and “Sound Travels” bringing world music to the Milwaukee airwaves.

According to Radio Milwaukee Program Director Sean Demery, “We''re not looking for everyone to listen, but we''re looking for enough like-minded listeners and partners to accomplish the mission and serve the community.”

A new home

In 2013, Radio For Milwaukee accomplished the next milestone in their vision to become a gathering place for the community by constructing new studios in the historic Walker''s Point neighborhood of Milwaukee. While the studios at Milwaukee Public Schools continue to be used to air weekly school board meetings, the new facility gives a very tangible physical presence in the community.

A small studio equipped for audio editing and production

Walker''s Point

The Walker''s Point neighborhood is south of Milwaukee''s Third Ward and has historically been an industrial neighborhood for the most part, home to tech companies such as Rockwell Automation and PKWARE. Recent years have seen a revival of this neighborhood as new housing; retail and office development replaces long shuttered factories and other previously industrial space. The neighborhood is also becoming a new cultural center, with a number of community nonprofit organizations as well as a variety of nightclubs and other venues.

The Studios

On the broadcast side of things, the facility features one main control room with a self-contained space for live performance, four small production studios, and a tech center to house support equipment common to all studios in the facility. Audio routing and distribution is via Axia Livewire with content primarily played from the ENCO system or CDs by the hosts, and of course the live bands and DJs that frequently visit the facility.

The technology center houses support equipment for the studios

CD Shelving made from recycled lumber

A recycled door doubles as a countertop



Unique spaces

In addition to the broadcast studios, the facility features several other very unique spaces to help Radio Milwaukee accomplish their mission. As you enter the facility, the first thing that you notice is that it is directly attached to a local coffee shop. This immediately creates a warm and inviting atmosphere to connect with the station and others in the community.

While there is a secure entrance into the broadcast facility itself, there is a large common area between the coffee shop and the station''s main indoor performance space. Viewing areas are provided from the common area for both the main air studio and the performance space. This performance space can accommodate audiences of up to 100 people and regularly hosts live concerts for the public by local bands and nationally known artists. Large glass garage doors open up between the common area and the performance space to accommodate larger crowds.

A “green” roof doubles as another performance and event space.

“Green” construction

Recycled materials are used throughout the facility. In the office spaces, one of the more interesting features is the use of old doors as countertops. Shelving for CDs and wall coverings are also constructed from reclaimed materials. This theme carries throughout the building all the way to the rooftop, where a “green” roof also doubles as yet another live performance and event space.

The kitchen sink…and more

What radio station would be complete without a full kitchen? Not only does the new Radio Milwaukee facility have a full kitchen area, it also features something most radio stations don''t have—a laundry room to allow visiting artists (or station staff) to wash their clothes after long hours on the road or working at the station. Artists and staff can also make use of the green room spaces to rest and relax when they aren''t on the air. The entire facility is designed to make station staff and visitors feel very much at home.

Kitchen area

Green room area

More than just a building

In keeping with the Radio For Milwaukee mission, the goal was not only to create a new home for the broadcast studios, but a “hub” for the community. Now that the staff is getting used to the space, 2015 promises to bring even more opportunities to use the space to fulfill the mission. The new space truly does give a common gathering place to bring the community together both on the air and in person through music.


Receive regular news and technology updates. Sign up for our free newsletter here.

Comments