"I really want to give this state its own people back," says local entrepreneur Stephen Webb, owner and main announcer with web radio station WeAreRadio. "There's not a cohesive music in the state, but there should be. Here, why can't we hear it all in one place?"
Webb launched the station last April, playing an abbreviated mix of rock, pop, and classic roots music from his own personal collection from a small studio in his home in the Old Village of Mt. Pleasant. The early broadcasts were pre-recorded and pre-arranged, but Webb can flip a switch and go totally live any time.
"The genesis was a domain name that I had," he says. "I knew it was a fantastic way to tell the world about what we were doing, which was developing some of our many domain names into web sites. I figured, just like in a traditional city full of domain names, there would be a terrestrial radio station and the commercials would be for businesses in that city. On the internet, I was advertising the businesses in my own city. I had to fill in the commercials with music ... I always loved music, so I uploaded my entire collection. I became a music programmer by default. Then it became popular.
Webb describes the general format as "anything remotely a cousin to rock 'n' roll" from the last 40 years.
"From reggae to Johnny Cash to Britpop, I played whatever I liked and whatever I might play on the stereo for guests," he says.
Leading up to last month's Rocktoberfest events in Awendaw, which WeAreRadio co-sponsored, Webb started fine-tuning his approach to the musical format. He decided to "take it local" in an attempt to tell the world about the rock-oriented music of South Carolina. His efforts redefined the station as a truly local endeavor.
"When I was getting my feet wet with the station and using the software, I realized I had an incredible vehicle here," he remembers. "I decided to hyper-focus on the land where it all began and look to the local music scene around me that I'm now getting very connected with."
What qualifies an artist for the fit on WeAreRadio's playlists is having close ties — either by being a S.C.-based act, or connecting with the regional scene within a few figurative steps. By touring and performing across the Palmetto State, developing a local following, recording and collaborating with local studios and bands, and/or including former S.C. musicians, out-of-state acts might land some tunes on WeAreRadio's lists.
"I'll play Cowboy Mouth because [Hootie & The Blowfish guitarist] Mark Bryan fills in and records regularly with them when they play stints at the Windjammer and other local clubs," says Webb. "But I don't want to completely pigeonhole things; I want to expand them. I'm looking for the distant cousins to the local musicians. It makes things more interesting for the listeners. As we work on the playlists, we add information and cool tidbits about the connections to South Carolina."
Web radio isn't totally new in the Lowcountry. Radio Free Charleston (www.radiofreecharleston.com) kicked off two years ago. While it features a healthy dose of local music, it's more genre-driven, emphasizing roots-rock, blues, and Americana. Listeners are more likely to hear something by Widespread Panic or a classic Woodstock performer than a series of tunes from up-and-coming local bands. Radio.sc (www.radio.sc) is a statewide, multi-channel internet station designed to showcase over 20 musical genres "specifically for adults with distinct musical tastes" — from beach and shag classics to hard rock, rap, gospel, and local music. While local college radio is non-existent on the airwaves, the College of Charleston and Trident Technical College support student-run, all-volunteer internet stations. Sounding more professional and confident than ever, CofC Radio (www.cofcradio.com) recently tightened and polished their format and delivery. Trident Tech's TTC Internet Radio (www.live365.com/stations/ttcollege) officially started broadcasting all original programming in October.
For Webb, the goal is to establish WeAreRadio as Charleston's "number one source for local music." Although he already programs from a hefty catalog of albums and tracks, he's determined to spend the next few months building the station's musical library. "The more I dig, the more I stumble upon," he says.
He also writes features on the local bands for the station's web page and conducts interviews for the "Live from the Half Bath." Webb's interview segments are interspersed with tracks by the featured artists. Already, he's archived segments with several local artists and visiting acts who have longtime ties with Charleston.
"Uncle Miles" Crosby — a veteran of Charleston rock radio known best for his years with the now defunct 96 Wave — recently signed on as a co-host and associate.
"Miles is known for breaking new bands back in the day," says Webb. "His name is synonymous with Charleston radio."
Crosby has been working in the real estate game since the demise of 96 Wave. He says he signed on mainly for the fun.
"I like Stephen's concept on doing the South Carolina connection because of the tie-ins of bands who've toured extensively in this area and have supported Charleston," says Crosby. "People like Cracker, Son Volt, and Wilco could fit in to this. Taking some of the new bands is great because there is some great stuff out there."
Webb believes his station's recent accomplishments signify a "Renaissance moment" for Charleston. "This scene deserves to be well known to its very own people, and it's not, unless you happen to be an absolutely avid clubgoer," he says. "But the radio is your portal and connection to the music. I believe that WeAreRadio is here to bring people and their rightful music back together."