Northshore Magazine

May / June 2015

Northshore magazine showcases the best that the North Shore of Boston, MA has to offer.

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Page 194 of 244

192 (formerly Clear Channel) taking over the dial, often swapping out human hosts and regional charac- ter for automated playlists. Inde- pendent Boston stations like WFNX, which The River sees as something of a vanguard of its format, closed their doors, and there's been no shortage of 21st-century disrup- tion, from Pandora to Spotify to satellite radio. But even without the might of a publicly traded company behind it, The River still speaks to an audience of 500,000—nearly double the 286,000 listeners it had in 2008. To hear the staff tell it, that's because curated experiences haven't satisfied an appetite for dis- covery. "Initially, you think, 'Wow, they're playing all the things that I love,'" Marshall says. "But what I've found, from a personal perspec- tive, is that it very quickly becomes about sameness. There's not much undulation, or element of surprise, or personal connection." Instead, The River's Greater Boston audience demands a station that sorts through music and finds the great in the glut. "It's like I make 24 mix tapes every day," says Matt Phipps, the afternoon-drive host and The River's program and music director. "We're doing the work for you, and the variety that you hear every hour is what's made us an im- portant part of the radio landscape." Charts and sales and industry research factor in to what the sta- tion plays, but to an unusual degree, so do social media requests and the hosts' intuition. Phipps and St. Sauveur took a train to see Irish singer-songwriter Hozier play to 80 people in a New York City lounge. "We said, 'This guy's going to be mammoth,' and we were the first station in Boston to play 'Take Me to Church,'" Phipps says. On Sunday mornings, Marshall hosts Brunch by the River, a ramble through jazz, blues, folk, and the more obscure sounds on the edges of the station's format. The playlists can also have a spontaneity that corporate sta - tions do not: When The Band singer and drummer Levon Helm passed away in 2012, The River played an hour's worth of his songs. And whether it's putting homegrown artists on a pedestal, recapping the Red Sox box scores between songs, or putting on the Riverfront Music Festival, a free Labor Day Weekend concert in Newburyport that traditionally draws more than 10,000 spectators, The River is firmly connected to the place that surrounds it in a way that other radio stations increas- ingly are not. During planning for the 2013 Outside the Box festival on Boston Common, its organizers had a mandate to work with local vendors. "We were literally the only locally owned and operated CO N TAC T WXRV 92.5 FM The River 30 How St. Haverhill 978-374-4733 Boston station," St. Sauveur says. He and Phipps booked the festival's finale, lining up Boston-begotten acts Buffalo Tom, the Lemonheads, and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. The River also sponsored a contest to benefit music programs in local schools, awarding a horn section from Ipswich High School the honor of joining The Bosstones dur- ing the performance. And in front of a crowd of 40,000 on a sweltering July night—while wearing plaid jackets to match the Bosstones' iconic getups—the Ipswich High students accompanied them in playing their 1997 hit "The Impres- sion That I Get." "They belted out this pitch-perfect performance that blew away the band and the audience," St. Sauveur says. "And I thought, that's the dif- ference with what an independent radio station can do. It was about the music, it was about being local, and it was about sharing that moment." —Donald St. Sauveur

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