I've always been a big fan of radio. As a child in Middletown, I remember doing homework to top 40 on WSAI-AM in Cincinnati before graduating to the album-oriented rock of WEBN-FM in Cincy and WTUE-FM in Dayton. In those pre-MTV/pre-Internet days, radio was the way folks discovered and fell in love with music. And I fell hard.
My passion for music hasn't waned, but radio and I have had an on-again/mostly-off-again relationship since WENZ-FM ("The End") in Cleveland became a hip hop station in 1999.
I like Steve Miller as much as the next middle-aged white man, but if I never hear "Jet Airliner" or "Take the Money and Run" again on the radio, my life won't be any less complete. Listening to rock radio used to be about discovery, and all I discover these days is that rock fans are mighty nostalgic. And DJs with local roots and a distinctive voice, like Fast Freddie on WNCD-FM or A.C. McCullough on WHOT-FM, are becoming a dying breed in an era of voice tracking, syndicated programming and playlists picked in a corporate office thousands of miles away.
Then I found The Summit. The listener-supported public radio station has been broadcasting in Akron on 91.3 FM since 1999, but the station also is simulcast on WKTL-FM (90.7) in Struthers, making it available to most of the Mahoning Valley for the last couple years. Here are a few of the reasons I support The Summit:
The music - If you once devoured new music, feel alienated by what you hear on top 40, don't want to listen to pop country and are a little embarrassed that most of the music you own is 20 to 40 years old, check out The Summit.
It's the only radio station I can listen to in my car that plays many of the acts that fill my iPod (The Decemberists, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Ingrid Michaelson, Mumford & Sons, Dawes), and it's the place where I discovered many of the bands that join them in my music collection (The Head and the Heart, the Lumineers, Alabama Shakes). And those songs are woven among older favorites, so classic rock fans don't have to go cold turkey. Some of the acts played Wednesday morning as I wrote this included Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Beatles, U2, the Clash, Tom Petty and Sting as well as newer acts like the Divine Fits, Gary Clark Jr. and the Avett Brothers.
Support of local / regional musicians - Programs like ''The Homegrown Show'' on WNCD-FM (93.3) are great for providing exposure to local musicians. But shows like that relegated to a Sunday night ghetto when general listenership is low tend to be heard primarily by friends of the bands and those already tuned into the local music scene.
The Summit plays music by regional artists in all day parts seven days a week (OK, six days a week for us in the Valley because WKTL drops The Summit on Saturdays for ethnic programming).
The impact of that radio exposure can be seen with Red Wanting Blue. The Summit loves RWB (and rightly so) and plays several of its songs in heavy rotation. RWB is based in Columbus and played a hometown show earlier this month at the Newport. Tickets still were available the day of the show. A week later they came to Cleveland to play at the similar-sized House of Blues. That show had been sold out for more than a week.
Live music - Last week my wife, younger daughter and I went to Akron for a Red Wanting Blue performance in The Summit's newly renovated Studio C. I've seen RWB five times already this year, but the radio performance was something unique and different, and it was an opportunity only available to Summit members.
Early this year The Summit brought UK band Scars on 45 to Youngstown for a members-only concert at Cedars Lounge, and it has done similar events, from free shows to exclusive soundcheck access, at other venues in northeast Ohio.
The Summit just wrapped its fall membership drive. But like any listener-supported radio station, they'll gladly take your money any time. Give 'em a listen.