ARTxFM has been offering the most daring radio in Louisville's history for the last several years, all of it streamed on the Internet. The station's free-form format will find a second home beginning Sunday afternoon.
ARTxFM makes its debut on the FM dial with WXOX (97.1), taking its avant-garde programming to a mainstream audience. In the digital age, that may seem like like a move backward but station president and general manager Sharon Scott doesn't see it that way. She's been waiting for this moment for five years.
"There's a lot of energy, a lot of momentum, and it's just a time that we've been waiting for for so long," Scott said. "I feel confident, but there's a lot to do still."
WXOX will go live at 3:33 p.m. Sunday during a launch party at the station's new headquarters at 515 W. Breckinridge St. The party begins at 2 p.m., with live music, DJs and a champagne toast and then it's back to work.
WXOX will feature nearly 80 programs, all of which will still be streamed at ARTxFM.com. Scott's philosophy has always been to approach radio as an art form, not simply as a delivery system, although WXOX and ARTxFM certainly share DNA with typical radio programming.
There are shows dedicated to recorded music, talk shows and some live music, but the sheer scope of the music is extraordinary and DJs are free to sonically create worlds built from and for the imagination. There are only a handful of radio stations worldwide dedicated to radio as an art form, Scott said.
The only difference between ARTxFM and WXOX is random access.
Internet radio is largely seen as a destination format; there is no scan button on a browser, so listeners must specifically seek out a station. But what happens when someone tired of sports talk, Mumford & Sons or Selena Gomez spins the dial and lands on Club El Rancho segueing from Firesign Theatre to The Sonics, or Muddle Instead of Music dipping into the Moondog catalog?
"People have to know about the website because the Internet is so huge that the chances of someone just stumbling across it are slim to nil," Scott said. "It is really exciting to think about that person just turning the dial and thinking, 'What is this?'...A lot of the music community knows about us already, and the arts community is pretty connected, but we're so excited about...reaching out to the bigger community."
Brian Manley, WXOX's local music program director and host of three shows, agreed.
"From day one I've been looking forward to people scanning stations and having something catch their ear that they haven't been aware of, whether it's something noisy or a pop band," he said. "I think it can have a huge impact. I've always thought it was pretty educational when you have a bunch of music nerds broadcasting stuff. It's how I learned to go down a bunch of different roads musically."
ARTxFM debuted in 2012 as a pop-up station before settling into a rented space on W. Market Street. It's a non-profit station supported by donations and sponsors, and last year was one of four non-profits awarded an FM license under the Local Community Radio Act. WCHQ (100.9-FM) is the only other station to go live after starting on the Internet as Crescent Hill Radio but offers a much more traditional format and far fewer programs.
Scott and her husband, chief operator Sean Selby, used crowdfunding and donations to cover the cost of a transmitter, licensing fees and more equipment. During recent test runs, they were surprised that the WXOX signal - a modest 84 watts broadcast from the NuLu area - reached most of the metropolitan area or roughly anything within the Watterson Expressway.
"I really hope this station can challenge people's ideas of what radio is and what it can be, and what can potentially be done with it," Scott said. "We really open up the station to community members...just to give them a place where their voices can be heard. I think that one of the biggest things is allowing community members to participate in the production of media, as opposed to just participating in its consumption."