Visible Radio is all Memphis music, all the time

LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Visible Music College president Ken Steorts has joked that the institution for higher learning has a secret FM radio station. The station, on the dial at 100.3 FM, is not a secret exactly.

It is even award-winning, having received two gold American Advertising Federation Memphis Awards (ADDYs) for its historical programming in January.

It is just that Visible has not done any real promotion for it.

Visible started an online station in 2005. In 2013, the college began working to get a noncommercial, low-powered FM radio license.

And on Dec. 1, 2017, WVZM 100.3 FM went on the air. The signal covers Downtown, Midtown and areas inside the Interstate 240 loop and runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For those not within range, the station can be accessed online.

Launched in 2000 in Memphis, Visible Music College offers bachelor’s degree programs in music business, music production and music performance for students interested in the music industry and ministry, as well as a Master of Arts in leadership.

The radio station has an all-volunteer staff. Rick Tarrant, voice-over actor, producer and owner of Rick Tarrant Productions, serves as the programming director. Isaac Harper serves as production assistant. (Harper also works in an administrative role at the college.) Two Visible students help the station with recording, production and other tasks; the station plans to add more students in the future.

Visible Radio plays music from its students and their bands, but it also plays other music from Memphians or music that was written and created here.

In recent days, listeners heard songs from Howlin’ Wolf, Julien Baker, The Staple Singers, Drew Holcomb, North Mississippi Allstars, Amy LaVere, Don Bryant and Justin Timberlake.

“I’m constantly looking up who’s playing on the station and it’s my station,” Steorts said with a laugh.

In addition to highlighting historical Memphis music from Sun Studio, Stax Records and Royal Studios, Tarrant said the station wants to highlight the Memphis music creators of today.

“And then there’s the future generation, like Evvie McKinney, who won that FOX competition earlier this year, or Reagan Strange who’s currently knocking it out of the park on NBC’s ‘The Voice,’” Tarrant said. “So, I just think there’s such a wealth of talent and opportunity. We don’t need to focus on any other city’s music. We’ve got plenty to keep us busy right here.”

The station is not just music.

Shelia Whalum hosts a relationship advice show, “LOVETalk,” which airs Wednesdays at noon. Whalum serves on the college’s board of trustees.

Steorts said that WVZM is looking for Memphis content for the station, including sponsored shows and more volunteer programmers.

“We want to open it up to the volunteers who are passionate about Memphis music,” Tarrant said. ” . . . Maybe there’s someone out there who wants to do an hour a week of Memphis metal music or Memphis hip hop music that can be played on the radio. We don’t want it just to be a computer playing music. I think that’s what makes the difference.

“We live in a world of Pandora and Spotify and Apple Radio where anyone can listen to anything they want to, so I think what will differentiate us is if there are people who are passionate about Memphis music who want to curate and want to help tell the story. That’s one thing the online services don’t do, they don’t tell any stories.”

Visible wants WVZM to be a community radio station, and the rise and demise of the station will depend on the community, Tarrant said.