This Triangle-based radio station devotes air time to up-and-coming North Carolina musicians alongside national Americana performers.
by David Menconi | photography by Bryan Regan
I got off to a rough start with That Station, also known as 95.7-FM WCLY. It started up in the spring of 2018 as that rarest of Triangle radio unicorns, an adult alternative station on the commercial dial owned by Capitol Broadcasting Company. But despite billing its format as “Americana,” That Station went on the air playing a lot of U2, Tom Petty, and Led Zeppelin — classic-rock warhorses other stations were already beating to death. I did not hide my disappointment, and spouted off about it in The News & Observer and on social media at the time.
To my surprise, Capitol Broadcasting vice president Brian Maloney got in touch, and we sat down to talk. I suggested a bunch of acts I thought That Station should be playing, and he offered me the chance to do a weekly local-music show. Thus was born “That Old North State Radio Hour,” which lasted about a year and a half (and, full disclosure, lives on in the form of twice-daily “North Carolina Backtracks” vignettes about regional acts that I do to this day).
Meanwhile, That Station has grown well beyond that stumbling start to become a solid Americana station, and one in which local music is an unusually large presence. In fact, it plays more homegrown North Carolina acts than just about any other commercial station in the Triangle. “In thinking about what hill we must protect, local music is that hill,” says Chris Edge, That Station’s program director since 2019. “We’ll never be out-localled by anybody else, not on my watch.”
What makes up the bulk of That Station’s playlist is contemporary adult-alternative favorites like Sarah Jarosz, Punch Brothers, and Drive-By Truckers. And it still plays a fair amount of classic rock, too, from the likes of Bonnie Raitt, The Police, and Bruce Springsteen.
But it’s the local content that really sets That Station apart: the North Carolina favorites that are rarely heard on commercial stations. Established local musicians like Mountain Goats, American Aquarium, Steep Canyon Rangers, Mipso, Rissi Palmer, and Chatham County Line — all of whom are on the bill for its inaugural That Music Fest, June 24 to 25 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park — might be on the air at all hours of the day or night. And emerging groups including Jason Adamo, Aaron Burdett, Peter Holsapple, and the Chatham Rabbits have benefitted from That Station airplay.
John Teer of Chatham County Line says the group is “happy and grateful to have another station committed to bringing great local music front and center.” That’s a sentiment echoed by other local acts playing the club circuit.
“It definitely helps,” says Hank Smith, frequently heard on That Station with his group Hank, Pattie & The Current. “It’s always nice to hear yourself on the radio, or from friends texting to say, I just heard one of your songs on there!”
As a market where National Public Radio station WUNC tops the ratings, the Triangle has a well-educated and tech-savvy population. It’s a bit surprising that it took so long for a commercial-alternative station like this to emerge here — perhaps because, for the true music geeks, our three radio stations affiliated with area universities have been longtime resources for local music and more obscure artists. There have been a handful of other attempts at commercial-alternative formats here over the years, but they were short-lived. That Station bridges the space between the two, presenting artists that locals may have seen live, with a vibe that feels more like public radio than a commercial station.
“A station like this is hard to program because you have to be living in it,” says Edge. “What usually happens with a station like this is the people running it get it, but the management layers above are all going, I don’t understand this. It doesn’t help that not many stations doing this are successful in the ratings, which is what larger radio corporations are beholden to.”
At four years and counting, That Station has at least lasted long enough to settle into the market, though its over-the-air ratings have been modest. That’s due partly to a weak terrestrial signal at 95.7-FM, which frequently runs into interference from other stations in the area, but the station also became available recently on the accompanying HD spectrum at WRAL-FM HD2 for digital radio, and has made online listening a priority through streaming on its website and a mobile app. “That Station is a passion project for the company,” says Maloney. “We’ll never be the big dog, but we never set out to be, either.”
This article originally appeared in the May, 2022 issue of WALTER Magazine