Issue September 8, 2010

WFPKyle

New music director, (somewhat) new direction at 91.9

One of Kyle Meredith’s first acts as music director of 91.9 WFPK has been diving into the AAA nonprofit station’s vast audio library with a critical ear, looking for what to throw out, what to leave in and what to add.

“We’re just going through a lot of the library cuts, looking for songs that have been played to death, and for material that hasn’t really connected,” says Meredith, 28, who was promoted to the position last month.

“We are mostly a new music station,” Meredith says. He knows, for instance, of about five or six Dylan songs he’ll retire for good. Coming in? More underground ’90s alternative music, and songs that appeared on the taste-making College Music Journal charts within the last decade. He hasn’t ruled out more hip-hop, citing recent spins of Blakroc and The Roots. “If it makes sense for three-quarters of our audience, we’ll play it,” he says.

As well, Meredith will be the station’s liaison to the industry, fielding calls from record labels and radio promoters pining to have their music put in rotation. Any new music sent to the station will come to him first.

Meredith hasn’t and won’t have any say over which programs will get on the air. “I don’t think I have to be a humongous change. We’re in a good spot.”

“It’s cliché when I say it, but I have been interested in radio as long as I can remember,” he says. Born in Leitchfield, Ky., Meredith grew up hearing his mom’s Prince, Cyndi Lauper and Creedence Clearwater Revival records, watching MTV, and listening to 96.1 WSTO. “It was the only station we picked up that played Top 40 music that wasn’t country.”

Meredith attended Eastern Kentucky University, in Richmond, and majored in communications. But it wasn’t until he transferred to Jefferson Community College, which had better leads on radio internships, that his career took off. After being laid off from a factory job, he called the program director of 105.1 WLRS, which was still using live DJs at the time.

“I made some really stupid joke about how (100.5) The Fox has ‘Mandatory Metallica,’ and that they should spread the ‘Jam,’” Meredith says, referring to Seattle rock group Pearl Jam. He was on the air later that day. “I don’t remember what he asked me. My eyes went big.”

Meredith landed an internship at WLRS and worked on their local music show, “Kentucky Fried Radio Hour.” At the end of the internship, he was hired full-time. He left WLRS to join Label X. Run by producer Todd Smith, Label X’s roster included Digby, The Muckrakers, Code Red and Peter Searcy; Meredith’s job was to get their music heard on radio stations all over the country.

When Label X folded, he started his own independent radio promotions company. He’s promoted bands like Boy Least Likely To and These United States, to name a few.

In Louisville, WFPK has a dual identity as the city’s AAA and college radio station, and Meredith says the change in culture took getting used to. In commercial radio, the playlists are smaller and generally computerized and pre-programmed hours, sometimes days, in advance. At WFPK, “all of our hosts are live; you play each CD.”

Where commercial radio personalities tend to speak faster and louder, public radio jockeys favor a conversational tone. “Over here, the training was to be yourself, and talk like you would to a normal person.”

Every week, WFPK DJs undergo a process called air-checking, where they’re assessed on delivery. “It’s painful enough, but it’s extremely helpful,” Meredith says. “There is something about being at the board, handling the CD and fumbling over yourself on the air that makes it really fun. I am sitting at that board, trying to connect with people. The whole thing is more personal.”

The greenhorn must have been doing something right: In the year and a half since his arrival, Meredith has launched “The Weekly Feed,” aimed at featuring the blogosphere’s most popular tracks. The one-hour specialty program and companion blog at www.weeklyfeed.org is now syndicated in Indiana, New Jersey, California, Indiana, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and New Mexico. Outside the booth, Meredith’s appearances as an emcee at Waterfront Wednesday and WFPK-sponsored shows have become more frequent.

Hiring a music director was part of a plan the station’s program director, Stacy Owen, conceived years ago, back when she didn’t have the budget to pull it off.

In recent months, “it got to the point where I had to make it happen,” she says. “With me tackling both program director and music director and booking Waterfront shows and booking ‘Live Lunch,’ it had kind of reached a plateau. I needed some extra help to freshen things up and pull us out of our comfort zone.”

Meredith’s experience on both sides of the mic made him the best candidate; the decision, Owen says, was reinforced by the hundreds of congratulatory messages on Meredith’s Facebook page. “He’s got well-rounded experience,” Owen says. “He knows the common-sense things, and he’s one of the most passionate music lovers I think I’ve ever met.”

Owen will still make all the programming decisions, but Meredith’s input will be valuable in the station’s weekly music meetings, where he will act as the filter for arriving new music.

“You have to have one person that’s kind of in charge, being the filter and organizing everything,” she says. “All the new music we receive will go to him first, and he’ll bring what he thinks is the best of the best.”