The Radio Waves Music Festival started in 2008 on WTIP’s 10th birthday and kept coming back due to popular demand, as our annual membership and community outreach event. In the spring of 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic set in, “There was a silence all over downtown.” First thought was, it will be over in a month…then hope turned into despair as event after event got canceled all over the world.
At the same time, online technologies such as Zoom and Clean Feed were emerging, and we occasionally had virtual live performances and interviews on the air. When it was all but decided that the festival should be canceled, the Radio Waves spirit took over. Our team concluded that the quality of sound over the internet is good enough to go big, and the festival was held on-air, as a symbol of resilience in this rugged northern corner of Minnesota. The RWMF broadcast 13 acts in 13 hours, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, alternating between an outdoor stage on WTIP’s parking lot and virtual live performances from bands’ home studios. The air was filled with the sound of a community determined to face the challenges together.
In a normal year, the RWMF is a celebration of the summer tourism season coming to an end, and a job well done. Hardworking locals get together to chill out, enjoy the music, pat each other on the back, and catch up. But in 2020, the future of our local economy was uncertain. Many businesses had to limit or suspend all operations and the RWMF added a glimmer of hope that we would find our way through this new world. This was also a very difficult time for local musicians who would normally be playing all along the North Shore and up the Gunflint Trail at different resorts and events. Even when it became virtual, the artists appreciated being able to stay connected with their audiences and captured the essence of the festival.
Over the years, the RWMF has become such a fixture on the local calendar that keeping it going meant a great deal to the 1,300 members of WTIP. We continued with the on-air version in 2021, as limited healthcare resources in our remote community made in-person gatherings too risky. A small team of staff, engineers and volunteer emcees kept the RWMF going through unprecedented times. The power of terrestrial radio, combined with new online technologies, made RWMF 2020 and 2021 a great example of Local That Works, a testimony to the commitment of WTIP to serve the community and support local musicians.