NON-COMMvention celebrates 20 years of public radio at World Café Live

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S.G. Goodman
Provided

The Philadelphia-based NON-COMMvention of public, non-commercial, radio music programmers, managers and music industry representatives will gather this week at World Café Live in University City. The annual event won’t just celebrate its 20th anniversary — a milestone in radio, for sure—but also NON-COMM celebrates how non-commercial radio has created superstars and has opened itself to diversity behind the scenes as well as within its audiences.

Dan Reed, the Music Director, Operations Manager and afternoon host at WXPN-FM at World Café Live, created NON-COMM 20 years ago because like-minded non-commercial radio stations – or rather, the music they played – was not being smartly served or well represented.

“Ultimately, they were still geared toward commercial radio stations back then,” says Reed.

Then in Louisville, Kentucky, Reed built NON-COMM and brought it with him to WXPN when he arrived here in 2004. “NON-COMM was meant to be about the things and the music that we can relate to, everything from fundraising to community involvement and engagement. Plus, we could book live acts that commercial radio wasn’t playing, but were core to our stations and listeners.”

Twenty years later, much has remained the same. Non-commercial is flexible in how it can bend to the need and want of its listenership, still seeks to engage its audiences where they live, and requires that its faithful share in the rewards.

“What we didn’t see coming 20 years ago, what we had no control over as programmers, is what our kind of radio means to people,” says Reed.

Even though there are streaming services and music-on-demand abounds, the audience for uniquely curated, non-commercial radio has stayed strong. “The people who like what WXPN does, when we get them in the door, they stay,” says Reed, pointing to the strong membership drives through the pandemic. “We’ve been fortunate to grow our membership base every year…. Not everybody might like our cup of tea, but we brew our tea really well, and if you taste it, you’ll find it heady.”

Heady is, as heady does. Along with smart panels discussing how women and people of color are underrepresented in non-commercial radio and what can be done in the name of inclusivity, the 2022 NON-COMM live schedule includes Reed speaking with author Kelefa Sanneh (Major Labels: A History of Popular Music In Seven Genres) and alternative artists such as Spoon, Father John Misty, Alice Russell and Sharon Van Etten.

“You can never say who breaks out big and how non-commercial radio has mattered in the success stories of say, Norah Jones, Hozier and Brandi Carlisle,” says Reed. “I do happen to think that Americana singer-songwriters such as S.G. Goodman, Sarah Shook & the Disarmers are very strong, and will make a difference. I also happen to love Art d’Ecco, who is a little more glam rock, and Lucius, who are really turning heads with their harmonies.”

NON-COMMvention will take place May 3 to 6. While the conference elements are for industry types with showcases open to WXPN members, you can hear and watch the live NON-COMM events at WXPN-FM, 88.9 and xpn.org.

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