In March 2006, my first visit to New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, I first learned about WWOZ. Frankly, I don’t remember how. I spent the week in a FEMA camp without a car. Maybe I heard it on the radio of my friend Bruno’s truck. Maybe it was the night I drove my tent mate’s car back to Chalmette when my companions decided to eschew the strictly enforced curfew; I’m too old for fence jumping. However it happened — it happened. And once I returned to New Hampshire, I found it online and began listening while at work.
A year later, I returned to New Orleans to work once again with Habitat for Humanity and to greet the UNH students who drove the 1500 miles in vans. I rented a car at the Louis Armstrong International Airport using Habitat’s corporate account number. For whatever reason, I paid for a $149 per week compact and they provided me with a Nissan Murano SUV. Stunned, I nodded to the attendant and before I left the airport’s bounds, I tuned the radio to WWOZ. It was exactly 11:00am on a Friday, and inexplicably, Tom Morgan and his “New Orleans Music Show” was coming on. And before I exited onto I-10 East, Tom spun his first tune: Louis Armstrong’s “Do you Know What It Means, to Miss New Orleans?” At that moment, I was thoroughly smitten by the power and meaning of WWOZ.
New Orleans has its cathedral, the bawdy bars of Bourbon Street, and the stately mansions uptown, but to me, WWOZ is a 30-year old monument to the Crescent City. It captures the soul of the city like nothing else, as it personifies music, the music that is New Orleans’s gift to the world.
It was host to the rants of celebrity DJ, rhythm and blues artist Ernie K-Doe. It helps sponsor the annual New Orleans and Jazz and Heritage Festival. And more importantly, as the station itself proclaims, it brings “New Orleans music to the universe.” And the wonderful stable of announcers do just that in a personal, quirky, New Orleans sort-of-way.
WWOZ is one of New Orleans gifts to us, but only if you listen!