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Online Station In Charlotte Invokes Spirit Of College Radio

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There's a new radio station in Charlotte that invokes the heyday of college radio - back when that was just about the only place you could tune into to hear music outside of the mainstream. But Plaza Midwood Community Radio isn't affiliated with any school. It's the project of two long-time friends. Tune in and you can hear rock, pop, avant-garde jazz, aborigine music - really just about anything. Jason Michel (pictured, above) has always loved that place on the radio where you find music that's off the beaten path. Usually on the lower end of the FM dial. "When I was younger going on road trips and stuff [I would] always [tune] in between 80 something and 90 something to find something cool." Michel says. "It's always been a source of learning about new stuff and getting turned on to anything outside of the norm." Outside of the norm is a good way to describe Plaza Midwood Community Radio. There's "N.C. Musicland Radio," a show dedicated to North Carolina Hip Hop and R&B music. "Organized Confusion" is a show hosted by a blind quadriplegic in Gaston County who shares his favorite tunes. And "Medieval Arab Lesbians" highlights experimental music. Michel and friend Scott Slagle (pictured, right) launched the online station just over a year ago in Michel's living room. They were soon flooded with emails from people interested in having their own shows. The two eventually moved the station to its current location in a cramped studio on Louise Avenue in the neighborhood where the station gets its name. It's a lot of work on top of their day jobs. Michel is a bartender and manager at the rock club Snug Harbor. Slagle owns a recording studio in Mint Hill. Michel says the extra time put it is worth it to fill a void he sees in radio in Charlotte. "I do have certain opinions about the state of things, the homogenization of radio and media in general," Michel says. "You know what I mean? Appeal to the lowest common denominator, don't take any risks. It's just bland." The two don't make any money from the station. And they don't have a lot of listeners either, only about 30 at any given time. Yes they want more listeners, but there not consumed with trying to get more. The fact that they have a station unlike any other in Charlotte is more important. All of their roughly 25 hosts are volunteers. Andy Fenstermaker (pictured, left) is one of them. He goes by the name "Andy the Doorbum," a reference to his job working the door at the rock club The Milestone in west Charlotte. His show is called "The Weird World of Traditionally Unconventional Music." It airs Monday nights at 6. "It's really kind of no holds barred," Fenstermaker says. "It's just kind of a celebration of all things weird." Fenstermaker spends the hour spinning Indian ragas, Native American songs, Tibetan spirit chants, and other records he's picked up in thrift stores. He jumped at the chance to have his own show. "Doing a radio show is something I've always dreamed of," Fenstermaker says. "None of my friends have a record collection like I do or at least like those sorts of records. So I just kind of thought it would be cool to get it out there and maybe turn some people on." Plaza Midwood Community Radio is mostly about music for now. But Michel says he wants to expand the station to also include programs looking at community issues. This year though the focus is getting funding lined up. Annual costs for the station are around $5,500. That includes web hosting, music licensing, and rent for studio space. Michel and Slagle are looking at reaching out to local businesses for support. For right now it relies on donations and benefit concerts. The next one is at the end of the month. The two aren't going to be quitting their day jobs anytime soon. But the thought about Plaza Midwood Community Radio becoming their main source of income has crossed their minds. Here's Slagle. "If we get to the point where it's like a living wage, it's definitely going to take some time," Slagle says. "Years. But I definitely think we can get to the point where it just supplements. " He says they're already breaking even.