by Ben Shine
Melissa Davis really wants me to know that she is in no way, shape or form deserving of any credit for the cool stuff that's been happening at WFYI 90.1 lately.
If you ask her what she does for the station, she will laud the work of nearly everyone else on staff before she even starts to answer the question.
But as WFYI's Radio Production Manager, she actually is responsible for a lot of what we hear over the airwaves every day. She's the on-air host during daytime hours, runs the radio operation board, produces spots and edits programs.
She also manages WFYI's HD2 channel, including picking shows, scheduling and producing all of the breaks as well. This spring, she became the first producer of WFYI's Small Studio Sessions, a localized version of NPR's Tiny Desk Concerts, which I've really enjoyed so far.
In her life outside WFYI, she's a wife, stepmother, family-centric Ball State grad who also happens to front a goth-punk-surf band called Werewolf with a Shotgun. Her husband, Tony, is also a musician, who performs around Indiana and the Midwest under the name ToeKneeTea.
Even if she won't claim credit for any of WFYI's great output, it's clear that she is passionate about her life and public radio; and she appreciates the hard work of the people around her. I asked her more about the station and radio's place in a streaming world when I peeked in on S.M. Wolf's time in the Small Studio.
Sky Blue Window: How'd you get your gig at WFYI and what's your role nowadays?
Melissa Davis: I started out in radio during high school as a student broadcaster at 88.1 WVPE in Elkhart. During college I spent some time working at the public station WBST at Ball State. That's where I learned all of the good stuff about broadcasting fundamentals.
I've been at WFYI for about 13 years now, starting as a part time weekend announcer immediately after college and moving to full-time about 10 years ago. My title nowadays at 90.1 WFYI is Radio Production Manager, which is a fancy way of saying I edit audio, talk on the radio, record audio and assist with the production of several of our radio projects.
SBW: You guys have been introducing some really great, new programming this year. What's exciting right now about WFYI?
MD: Our newest digital offering "Small Studio Sessions" is a collaborative effort to shine a light on our Indy indie music scene. All the credit for the programming additions goes to Roxanna Caldwell, who works incredibly hard and has a great ear for exciting audio. And Jill Ditmire is providing excellent coverage with the artist interviews.
As someone who has played in our indie music scene for the past 10-plus years, I'm pleased to see that we are expanding our reach to the local music community in Indianapolis. The Art of the Matter has been doing this good work in the arts for years, and it's great to add to the coverage. I hope Small Studio and new shows like DJ Kyle Long's A Cultural Manifesto bring some much-deserved attention to our growing music scene.
I'm also really looking forward to the addition of a national NPR show called Snap Judgment on Wednesday nights at 8 pm. It's a fantastic newer show, and they do innovative work with audio and storytelling with a superb host -- Glynn Washington.
SBW: How did you guys come up with Small Studio Sessions? What's it been like and what's coming up next?
MD: NPR had a contest to select an emerging artist for a spot on their Tiny Desk series. WFYI made the local connection by getting the word out on the air and via the web that NPR was looking for entries. Over 66 high-quality entries arrived at NPR from the Central Indiana area. This is truly a collaborative effort, and I'm not just saying that. There are so many kind folks at WFYI who make Small Studio possible.
We have Sessions on the way from Joyful Noise Recordings' Stranger Cat, Sam Lee, S.M. Wolf, Sarah Grain & The Billions of Stars and more! We're adding new sessions on a weekly basis, and the interest from the community has been energizing and exciting!
The project is lots of fun to work on, and also a huge learning experience. I haven't produced in this manner before, so I'm learning a lot. Meeting Graham Nash during his recording was an amazing moment! I still sort of can't believe it happened. He was so cool and kind.
SBW: How is WFYI different from other stations? I listen to others online a lot too. I love KCRW and KEXP and often stream some of my favorite shows from them. Do you guys model yourselves after other stations or influenced by anyone else nationally?
MD: I think each public radio station and NPR member station is unique. That's just one reason why I truly love public radio. I'd say, at WFYI we don't really model ourselves after other stations, but we do strive to offer the NPR fare that listeners want while adding our own local sound and talents. There are stations that I love but I don't think we'd try to replicate another station's local sound. There are best practices, of course -- and if a particular station is doing something awesome, I'm definitely going to be listening. I totally agree with you. KCRW is amazing. I also love the work of MPR (Minnesota Public Radio), WBEZ in Chicago and the first station I ever worked at, WVPE in Elkhart/South Bend
SBW: What's going on with radio in general? What is its place as a medium in today's streaming and vinyl culture, and how is that reflected at WFYI?
MD: Change. A valued mentor said to me very early in my career, "radio is change." And you know what? It changes in every way nearly every year. The software changes, the distribution changes, consumer consumption changes. It's good though, the innovation and the potential for content creators to be in control of their product is very new-- and the potential to create exciting content is limitless. That can also pose potential challenges to traditional radio stations. It'll be interesting to see how it all ends up.
SBW: Who chooses those songs that are played between segments? And can I ever pick some out?
MD: The smart folks at NPR pick out most of the music beds that you hear. Aren't they great? I choose some locally, and our other announcers add their own choices sometimes. I recently added a track from Brandon Meeks to our interstitial music on HD2, The Point. You can pick some out, for sure! Send them my way and I'll add them.
SBW: What are your top three all-time most influential albums and why?
1.Fleetwood Mac -- Rumours. My parents played it all the time and the LP cover and music fascinated me. I thought Stevie looked like a sort of rock-and-roll princess on the cover.
2.Babes in Toyland--Fontanelle. The first album that spoke to me as a teenager, music that felt like it was "mine" and contained really substantial, meaningful stuff. Thirteen-year-old me needed that album and adult me still loves it.
3.Pink Floyd -- Dark Side of the Moon. The production values of this album are ridiculously amazing. Add in the fact that it's over 40 years old and still sounds contemporary, well, that's sort of mind-blowing.