It’s about the music. Sure, that’s an oft used tag-line preferred by programmers and imaging directors across multiple formats, but it’s also befitting of NON-COMM, one of the year’s most chill industry conventions. Officially named NON-COMMvention, with over 30 artists slated to perform, this year’s festivities promise to delight, as ever. True to form, the cast of characters is representative of format young bucks and torch bearers, from Blondie and the Pixies to Robert Cray and Laura Marling… and that’s barely scratching the surface of 17th Annual event taking place May 17-19th in Philly, hosted of course by WXPN.
We were pleased to catch up with WXPN’s Dan Reed about the big weekend, and asked him to talk about what makes this convention so different. “We’ve always wanted to keep the non-comm oriented to the stations and keep it friendly. One of our biggest goals is for everybody to have FUN. It’s busy-it’s a busy three days.” Asked about speakers this year, Dan continued
“Everybody’s tired and stuff, but there’s a lot of music to get to, there’s a lot to talk about. Psyched to have Dan Auerbach come in this year to our NON-COMMversation should be very interesting to talk to him. It’s gonna be great. The lineup is, I think, really solid. It’s another year we’ve sort of got this down to a science around here and it should roll nicely, hopefully.”
Upon being called “chill” in his overall approach, Dan laughed. “That’s the first time I’ve ever been called that. It’s a team effort here. That’s what we’re blessed with that maybe other conferences are not. We have a lot of people that work here at ‘XPN and there are a few key people that make sure it runs right. Ellen Oplinger, Paul Severin who are my production managers for this thing are fantastic. We’ve all done it for so many years, ya know? We know what to expect and everybody from top to bottom is into it. It’s all hands-on deck for those three days, so that makes it much, much, easier for everybody. It’s truly a team effort– there’s no doubt about it.
We asked Dan how he sees the evolution of the format and convention over the years.
Formatically, I think we’ve stumbled into something that works pretty well. You know, none of us had any experience back when I started in Louisville, but everyone’s into it. So, the people who come, it’s a friendly group. It’s a cooperative group. People like Non-Comm. Everybody has a stake in it, I feel like. So, a lot of people who have attended for many, many years feel a little bit of pride of ownership in it, as they should. So it’s been really organic. It’s grown organically. We’ve always tried to keep it about the music and about the stations and I think as long as we continue to do that, things will continue to go. I feel very fortunate that the record companies and the managers and the publicists and the artists feel like it’s a worthwhile endeavor, ya know? The hardest thing about it is whittling down the bands. It’s hard. We just try to go for balance, try to ascertain who’s got a buzz. I always wanna get a few like “wow” type of acts booked that people wouldn’t expect to see. But that’s the hardest thing about it. I could book three NON-COMMs if I wanted to. Or more. There are a ton of legitimate acts that would love to play and that’s flattering that people find it an important destination. Every year I have to deal with disappointing people and I don’t enjoy that. Most people understand though. It’s the way it goes. It’s a very competitive thing to get into.
Dan went on to explain the uniqueness of the format as well as the event.
When you get to Non-Comm radio, Our P1s give us money so the intensity’s up a little bit. The good thing about Non-Comm stations is most of the people who support these stations and are P1s and are members of our stations expect us to take chances to some degree. They expect us to play more new music. They expect us to make mistakes sometimes. Our hardcore listeners, people that really care about the station, understand it’s a continuous experiment trying to find the right kind of stuff to play. I find them very forgiving, the public radio audience. They certainly let you know what they think but for the most part they’re very loyal. That sense of ownership is there. They feel they are part of the family and they are. We say it all the time in fund drives- I mean we wouldn’t be here without our members. It’s imperative that we pay attention to them. The good thing about it is these are musically inquisitive people who want to be challenged by their favorite radio station and that makes it fun to program.
That carries over to the event itself.
I think the fact that we involve a small group of ‘XPN members who come in and get passes sort of ramps up the excitement a bit ya know? And the meetings every year are pretty good. When we started this thing I was saying I went to conventions and I thought they’re not really addressing #**# that I need to be concerned with in my Non-Comm world. It’s different– we have different concerns. So, we try to tailor the meetings as much as we can to our situations. We’ve got stations from the biggest media markets in the state and some of the smallest that come to Non-Comm, but we all have one thing in common: we’re Non-Commercial stations. We’re member supported stations. So, we’ve all got the same sort of concerns and challenges to keep the stations going, especially given the current political atmosphere. Nobody really knows what’s going to happen, so we’ve got plenty to talk about this year as far as that’s concerned. I think a lot of this idea exchange stuff takes place outside or in the hallways and stuff. The other thing about Non-Comm that I’m really proud of is that it gives an opportunity for some of the smaller media market sized stations to really talk to some of the bigger labels, some of the managers, some of the radio stations. It’s a pretty equal kinda thing here. We’re all in the same boat. That’s what it’s always felt like to me. Hopefully people agree with that. That’s very important to all of us that there’s an inclusiveness with this get together that you don’t get in some radio conventions. It’s reflective of our staff and certainly my philosophy. Inclusiveness is very important. As long as we can keep it at that level and keep that on the top of the agenda I think we’ll continue to be able to do this.”
Yeah, I think that’s a good bet. Make sure you say hi to Play MPE’s Laurie Gail in Philly! For the lowdown on all the festivities, head to http://www.xpn.org/events/non-comm