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INDUSTRY PROFILE #2 - Lee Widener of Neverending Wonder Radio by Mark E. Waterbury
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Copyright 2005 by Music Morsels,
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Editor: Sandy Serge
Mark E. Waterbury, Scott Turner
| When you have a sister that can play about any instrument, and a mother with such an extensive collection of Frank Sinatra records that the local radio stations would borrow them from her, that would constitute a musical upbringing. Lee Widener's sis did introduce him to many of musical styles including classical and electronic, although he balked at her teaching him piano. Every teenager in the 60's wanted to be in a rock n roll band, Lee recalls. I was no different. I begged my parents to buy me a cheap electric guitar I saw at a variety store. My mother warned me that if she bought it for me I would have to stick with it and actually learn how to play it. Lee never got his guitar, but still maintained a keen interest in music because of radio. He constantly listened to stations like WOW in his hometown of Omaha which would spin music ranging from Dean Martin to Led Zeppelin. Radio was worth listening to; DJs had personality back then, I would go to bed and hide my transistor radio under the covers and listen to stations from all over the country that I could magically hear during the wee hours. All of these influences contributed to my appreciation of a wide variety of music.
ÊÊÊ Despite the fact that Lee studied Mass Communications and Broadcasting while in college, he first delved into other avenues of the arts including writing and cartooning. He then studied playwriting with Obie Award-winning playwright Megan Terry, who created the musical "Viet Rock." Lee went on to form his own theater company where he produced the rock musical The Pink House Syndrome. The play had a solid run and the band providing the music for the play included Canned Heat touring member James Thornberry, Musical theater at its best is a seamless melding of several forms of artistic expression and can be an amazing form of communication. It's something I'd like to do again.
Lee emigrated to Oregon in the 70's, and over the years, he never lost his passion for broadcasting, even though he was cultivating a disdain for commercial radio. I never thought of doing a radio show until I heard Dr. Demento in the 70's. He was a kindred spirit. Here was somebody proving there was an audience for music that was definitely not mainstream. I had a chance to speak to the good Dr. at a record show in Portland in the late 80s. I confided to him my secret desire to someday have a weird radio show like his. Instead of passing me off as another silly fan, he encouraged me."
Some twenty years later after discovering 365Live.com, a website that made is possible for almost anyone to run an internet radio station,Ê Lee brought his ideals to fruition when he launched NeverEndingWonder Radio in 2001. He admitted that when he started the internet station, he hadn't even made an MP3 before. Using 365Live's resources as well as his own ingenuity, it took only a couple months for Lee to turn NeverEndingWonder into a featured station and editor's pick on 365Live. He started with the basics by getting a patch cord to run from his stereo to his computer sound card so he could present the music he had collected on vinyl over the years to his listening audience. He voice tracked everything including when he would talk between songs, often giving the listeners history lessons on the music he was playing. I'm definitely on the low-tech end of things. I don't have a big fancy studio like some webcasters do - just some software to record music and make mp3s and a mic. My station sounds homemade and that's the way I want it. I'm not trying to copy the slick sound of mainstream radio. Internet radio has the potential to revolutionize the way people think of radio.
Top forty is not the top forty on NeverEndingWonder Radio. As someone who has always loved listening to music outside of the mainstream himself, Lee wants to transfer his passion and widespread tastes in musical styles to the people who tune into his webcasts. There's such an amazing legacy of musical traditions the world over and people never get a chance to hear it. So much has fallen into obscurity or just slipped through the cracks to begin with. A lot of this music is far more interesting than the mainstream music which tends to deal with the lowest common denominator. Lee exemplifies his love for running NeverEndingWonder Radio as a pure music avenue by the fact that there is no advertising on his shows. He actually recently turned down a chance to broadcast on a national mobile phone network because it would have required him to carry their ads on the air. Perhaps that may make it a bit rougher to keep NeverEndingWonder afloat, but Lee keeps at it and just recently took a big step by going independent from Live365. He also switched to live broadcasting 24/7 and runs a web-ring for freeform radio both over the airwaves and on the internet, feeling that all these steps will help with the future of NeverEndingWonder. I had been planning the move for quite some time. I am now in complete control of one hundred percent of the content on my station, and that's the way I want it. Despite stiff competition from podcasting, internet radio is really starting to come into its own. Independent artists realize it's the perfect way to get their name out there and major labels are starting to clue in as well.
Lee is planning to eventually launch a web site to promote free-form radio stations such as his. With NeverEndingWonder itself, he is planning on bringing in more specialty programs including a live show and a rebirth of the previous show "The Experimental Audio Matrix," that weaves together a plethora of diverse styles. He continues to grow his already prodigious musical library, and realizes that as long as he adheres to the true passion and satisfaction he extracts from his labor of love, he can produce a steady growth for NeverEndingWonder Radio. Expanding your musical horizons expands your soul. If I can introduce people to new experiences, that's very gratifying to me. I also enjoy presenting new artists to the world, thus helping them find an audience and giving them a voice. Helping real, dedicated musicians get their music heard is wonderful. Musicians toil endlessly to perfect their craft and most of them don't get much reward for it. I love it when I get an e-mail from somebody that says 'heard this artist on your station and I bought their CD,' or 'Hey, we just got an e-mail from somebody who heard our music on your station;Ê thanks a lot!' That just makes my day.
Lee Widener's advice for musicians:Ê Don't give up! You may never have the audience of the Rolling Stones, but what you do is so valuable to the world. Never ignore your local community. You may not get famous playing local venues, but you're a community asset. In terms of promoting yourselves and getting airplay, have your act together before you start. Focus your promotional efforts. It may take more effort, but you will get better results from it. Research the stations you are interested in. If they seem like a good match for your material, send them an e-mail with a link to a sample of your music on the net. Don't send mp3 attachments without asking first! If you show a potential station that you've taken the effort to check them out, they'll return the courtesy.
Check out NeverendingWonder Radio at http://www.neverendingwonder.com. :->
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