By Margaret Dent
Looking out into the central atrium of the massive Crosstown Concourse building in Memphis, new community radio station WYXR has a literal window onto the parade of people passing through the building, as they play a soundtrack to this up and coming neighborhood.
WYXR was previously WUMR, the jazz station for the University of Memphis. The Daily Memphian and The University of Memphis wanted to revamp WMR and start a new partnership in broadcasting, according to Jared Boyd, who is managing the station along with Robby Grant, and Shelby McCall.
WYXR defines their mission as “A place where music, arts, culture, and news intersect. A community radio station in its truest sense – brought to you by Memphians from all walks of life.”
Boyd, a 2015 UM Graduate, was born and raised in Memphis, and his devotion to his hometown drives this mission. “I believe in Memphis. I believe in creating experiences for Memphis that are relevant. I’m not in love with writing or radio, I am in love with Memphis,” Boyd said.
Boyd, who has covered the Memphis music scene for the Daily Memphian, felt his calling in the field of journalism shifting. Boyd realized he loved reporting about music but began looking for a change in how to present the stories. When Boyd covered the announcement of the new radio station collaboration for the Daily Memphian, he became more interested in the platform.
Robby Grant, Executive Director of WYXR, wants this station to bring the larger Memphis community together. “We are not your typical radio station. We want to provide a platform for people that are passionate about music which will serve as a magnet for other people to connect through a music community.”
Memphis has a well-known musical history, and one goal of WYXR is highlighting that while also bringing new artists on the scene as well. “A huge part of what we do is introducing newer music by learning from the older stuff,” Grant said.
Robby Grant wants people to tune in to 91.7 with open minds. “Come to the station ready to hear something different and new,” Grant said. “In an age of Spotify and other platforms where you choose your music, we stick out by helping you find something you didn’t even know you liked.”
Boyd describes the style of WYXR in a similar way: “I hope people never get tired of variety. We want to appeal to the people who are OK with just seeing what happens,” he said.
With an online streaming service, people are not confined to listen to the radio in their car. Listeners from all over can tune into 91.7 on WYXR’s website.
Boyd puts full trust into the DJs who run the show day to day. According to Boyd, he focuses on people within the Memphis music orbit and pulls them into the studio. On a recent Tuesday afternoon, for example, the Memphis rap pioneer DJ Spanish Fly was being interviewed live on air by Memphis writer and filmmaker Robert Gordon.
On a day-to-day basis, the genres and generations shift rapidly. In a recent hour in the second week of operation, it was possible for listeners to hear everything from Al Green to North Mississippi All Stars.
According to Boyd, the odds of hearing two similar sets is unlikely. Switching up genres is part of the point: they have no problem playing jazz next to Americana: “Beale Street Caravan and Thacker Mountain Radio on the same station for example, people want to say that there are all of these things you can’t do, and we are doing it,” Boyd said.
One of the perks of the location of the studio is the contribution of local music within the building. Slowly but surely, life is coming back into Crosstown, and WYXR is helping that happen.
Boyd has such a happy memory of the day WXYR’s first show went live on air, on Oct. 5. “When we took the paper down in the studio [window] and saw our friends and family on the other side of the glass, it was extremely special,” Boyd said. Starting a radio station during a pandemic was tricky, but Boyd and the team at WYXR persevered: “I want this to be successful because Memphis deserves this experience.”