With the city currently in the throes of local awards fever, Milwaukee Record presents The Randoms, a series of highly specific and delightfully arbitrary “best of” awards that do away with pesky voting and feigned attempts at impartiality. Throughout the week, we’ll be recognizing the people, organizations, and places that help elevate life in Milwaukee. This week is sponsored by Boone & Crockett, 2016’s Best Bar With A Taco Truck Out Back (Bay View).
Milwaukee is lucky to be home to two top-notch independent radio stations—WMSE and Radio Milwaukee—that aren’t hemmed in by ultra-homogenized formats and playlists. Still, save for occasional community stories, old-timey radio serials, and the errant chat show, both stations stick largely to music. Which is great, because, well, who doesn’t like music? Then there’s Riverwest Radio, a relative newcomer to the Milwaukee radio dial, and a station that gives the word “freeform”—and even the word “studio”—a whole new meaning.
Born out of the Occupy movement back in 2011, Riverwest Radio began as a webcast-only concern. Riverwest Film and Video owner Xav Leplae co-founded the station with a group of likeminded community-minded activists, and quickly moved operations to the Center Street-facing window of his store. Soon, the 24-hour station became home to dozens upon dozens of unique, creative, and often bizarre programs helmed by Milwaukeeans from all walks of life: freewheeling political talk shows, freewheeling music shows dedicated to punk and noise, freewheeling discussions of everything from feminism and human rights to comic books and the Packers, and freewheeling…well, you get the idea. Anyone was, and is, welcome on Riverwest Radio. And anyone was, and is, welcome to check in on the proceedings from outside the studio’s storefront window.
Things got even better on New Year’s Day 2016, when Riverwest Radio graduated from web-only to legit FM station. Following a move from the Federal Communications Commission to open the doors to new low-powered FM stations (LPFM), Riverwest Radio was given a place on the dial and its own call letters: 104.1 FM, and WXRW-LP. A 40-foot tower was installed on the roof, and Riverwest Radio began beaming out to the city—or at least to the parts of the city within the five-mile radius mandated by the FCC.
These days, listeners can enjoy shows like the never-dull “Sleepy & Freeze Ft. Mic Crawf Anything And Everything” show, the long-running “There Goes The Neighborhood” (“Guests include musicians & politicians, MMA fighters & world class writers,”) “Cinema Fireside” (co-hosted by Mark Borchardt), and, yes, the Ald. Nik Kovac-hosted “PackerVerse.”
“I believe every community should have a station,” Leplae told the Shepherd Express in 2015. “They should be common as public libraries.” Here’s to one of the most eclectic libraries in town.