WXNA’s Randy Fox on Adventurous Radio
The rise of low-power FM stations continues across the country, some more sucessful than others. Nashville’s 100-watt WXNA has an interesting mix of punk, funk, roots, and more and an eclectic group of volunteer DJs. Randy Fox, who has been part of the station from the beginning, shares his passion for radio now.
Where and when did you start in radio and where did you go from there?
I’ve never “worked” in radio per se. I started at Vanderbilt University’s student station in 1997 as a volunteer DJ. At the time, the management allowed a certian number of “community” DJs on the air. I was on the air off and on at WRVU from 1997 until shortly before the university sold the station’s broadcast license in 2011. The next year, a group of seven former WRVU community DJs got together and began the process to establish an independent, nonprofit, freeform community station in Nashville. In December 2014, WXNA received its construction permit form the FCC, and we went on the air in June 2016 with an all-volunteer staff of roughly 90 DJs. The Nashville Scene wrote a nice story about the station last year.
In addition to my radio work, I’ve been a music nerd most of my life and a freelance music writer since 1988. I’ve been writing about music and popular culture full time since 2011.
Where do you work now?
I’m a co-founder and programming director for WXNA 101.5 FM in Nashville (and streaming). I’m on the air Mondays 7-9 a.m. CT with my freeform show Randy’s Record Shop and also on Tuesdays 5-7 p.m. CT with the Hipbilly Jamboree, which I co-host with Kels Koch. “Hipbilly” began on WRVU.
How do you describe your show?
Two hours of classic country, hillbilly, rockabilly, bluegrass, Western swing, and wise-ass talk.
How do you prepare for your shows?
Kels and I put very little advance planning into our shows most of the time. We both are firm believers in bringing a LOT of music and improvising as we go. Occasionally we may do a tribute show when an artist passes away, but even then, the set list will be pretty much improvised while we’re on the air.
How many new and independent releases do you play?
We play very little new material, and when we do, it matches the sound and feel of the older material we are playing. Since we focus on country from the 1920s to 1970s, almost any new artist we do play will be on an indie label.
What was the first artist or album that got you into roots music?
My uncle, Thomas Fox, cut a rockabilly single for the tiny K-Ark label in Nashville around 1964. I loved that record as a kid, and my two favorite songs as a preschooler were Marty Robbins’ “The Streets of Laredo” and Porter Wagoner’s “Green, Green Grass of Home.” As I got older I drifted away from country and into rock and roll. The one big exception was Jerry Lee Lewis, who is still one of my all-time favorite artists.
During the ’80s, I was very much into punk, new wave, and alternative rock. What eventually pointed me back to country was X, Jason & the Scorchers, and other cowpunk bands along with Dwight Yoakam’s and Steve Earle’s early albums.
Who are your favorite artists from any genre?
Wow, a list of favorites would be pretty big and run all over the place, from Arthur Alexander to Faron Young and from Louis Jordan to the Clash.
How do you define what Americana music is?
I find the very concept of Americana so nebulous it’s almost undefinable, so I can’t say what it is. Some people would go immediately to artists like Sturgill Simpson or Jason Isbell, but I view Sturgill as country and Jason as more Southern rock, so I’m a bit of an old-fashioned contrarian.
I’m not a big fan of the “Americana” term. It seems to be whatever people want to call Americana. Which they certainly have the right to do, but I’m cranky.
Where do you see Americana radio, or radio in general, going in the future?
I can’t really speak to the Americana format, but in general, I think terrestrial radio has a very solid future, especially smaller independent stations like ours. The response we received in the last year has been amazing. People who really love music understand the appeal of exciting, adventurous radio and its ability to introduce you to worlds of music you didn’t even know existed. There are a lot of low-power community stations that are doing some really exciting stuff right now.
What recent albums or artists are you excited about?
I think Sturgill’s last album was freaking brilliant. It built on everything he had done before but also had the balls to go new places without giving a damn about what people would think.
Raging Fire was an alternative rock band from Nashville in the 1980s who everyone loved and yet they never broke out of what people used to call “The Nashville Curse.” They recently reunited and released a fantastic record called These Teeth Are Sharp. If taking 30 years off means you can make a record this good, more bands should try it.
Another new record I’m very excited about is the Blackfoot Gypsies’ To the Top. Their last album was a good, solid roots rock record and I expected the same from their new one. Instead, it nearly blew off the top of my head. It’s a very exciting thing to hear a young band make a quantum leap like this. If there is any justice, these guys will soon be huge. (Of course, there ain’t no justice when it comes to the music biz, but they may make it anyway.)
What are your most memorable experiences or memories from working in the music industry?
One of my favorites was when we had Charlie Louvin as a guest on the Hipbilly Jamboree on WRVU. The same night he was going to appear, Jello Biafra happened to be in Nashville performing. Kels knows Jello, and shortly before the show, Jello called him to let him know he was on the guest list. Kels mentioned that Charlie was going to be on our show. Jello freaked out and came by the studio just to meet Charlie. I’m proud to say we facilitated the on-air meeting of the man responsible for “Satan is Real” and the man responsible for Frankenchrist — only in Nashville!
What inspires you or what keeps you going?
Hearing from a listener that you turned them on to a certain song or artist. That’s what radio should be about.
How do you want to be remembered?
To quote Steve Judd from the movie Ride the High Country, “All I want is to enter my house justified.”