On Saturday, October 21st, 2017 at noon, the Chicago Independent Radio Project (Chirp Radio) officially flipped the switch on their transmitter and broadcasted on terrestrial radio for the first time. An event ten years in the making, this was the result of hundreds of volunteers committing thousands of hours to elevate an independent media voice in Chicago and provide an outlet for local, up-and-coming, and underappreciated artists. A lot had to be done since Chirp Radio became a 501(c)(3) non-profit in 2007. Congress had to be lobbied to change laws, relationships with area organizations and businesses had to be developed and matured, volunteers had to be mentored and trained, and a sound had to be established. All of this had to come together to create the unique Chicago presence that is Chirp Radio.
In prior blog posts, I have shared my own personal story with Chirp including how I came across it and my experience volunteering and making life-long friends. In the last few weeks, I’ve talked with people who have been around the station much longer than me. I’ve only been a part of the station for four years, but there are people still around who were here at the very beginning.
In the days leading up to the launch, I really enjoyed hearing the excitement and stories from the people who were there when the idea of Chirp was born. These were the committed individuals who shaped the station over the years. At the monthly volunteer meeting held on the Thursday before the launch, people shared their stories about Chirp that they cherished over the years. I enjoyed listening to the humor and passion that came through as they recounted memorable moments such as moving everything out of a potential studio location on the coldest day in February, the tradition on annual summer parties, and comical moments interacting with musicians. Everyone was ready for the launch.
Hopleaf Bar in Andersonville graciously hosted Chirp’s broadcast launch kick-off. Since the signal would begin transmitting at noon (or moments before noon), the bar opened a half hour early to allow Chirp volunteers to set-up and hand out gift items to early bird listeners and friends of the station.
Very quickly, the top floor was filling up. Everyone wanted to be in the room where it happens before the station went live. So many people were there that it became difficult to move. However, that was fine because spirits were high and the comradery elevated everyone’s mood. I saw many volunteers I have met, worked with, and befriended over the years and congratulated them all. I was introduced to Chirp board members who were instrumental in guiding the direction of Chirp. I met friends and spouses and partners and loved ones of Chirp volunteers who came out to show their support. There was so much love in the room and everyone there played their own part in making Chirp a success.
Hopleaf poured little glasses of beer that we saved for a toast. A few minutes before the launch, we all toasted Chirp. Glasses clinked and were upturned as we celebrated, enjoyed life, and reveled in the success of our communal hard work.
Just a few seconds before noon, the station became live and everyone quieted. The song that was finishing during Michael Bennett’s shift was ending and segueing to Chirp’s official debut. Right at noon, the station’s manager Shawn Campbell came through crystal clear over the radio playing throughout the top floor of the bar. “Are you receiving?” Shawn asked. “Hopleaf? Since 2007, it’s been a really long time coming. I’m so happy to be able to say ‘This is 1071.1 FM WCXP-LP Chicago!’”
Shawn spent her shift reminiscing about the station’s history and the personal journey she embarked on to make her passion and dream into a reality. She played songs that meant a lot to her and her vision, thanked people instrumental in Chirp’s development, and talked about Chirp’s mission in Chicago.
“Sunday Candy” by Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment featuring Jamila Woods was the song she chose to debut Chirp’s terrestrial broadcast debut. She had kept which song she would open with secret for so long. I had a few ideas as to what that song could’ve been, but I was wrong. And for Shawn to pick such a jubilant song that also includes several of Chicago’s very own creative powerhouses, the choice is fitting and appropriate with nothing that even comes close to its significance to Chirp and its listeners.
The Social Experiment is a band self-described as a group of bohemian musicians. Co-founded by Chance the Rapper along with Peter Cottontale, Greg Landfair Jr., and Nate Fox, the Social Experiment partnered with Donnie Trump, a trumpeter and record producer, to release their studio debut Surf in 2015. The album was released exclusively on iTunes as a free download and was met with widespread critical acclaim. The album is a passion project that is highly stylized and contains a blends of jack fusion, dance, and neo-soul supported by a variety of great guests such as BJ The Chicago Kid, Big Sean, KYLE, Noname, Busta Rhymes, J. Cole, Janelle Monáe, and Erykah Badu.
Shawn chose the track “Sunday Candy” for a reason. The song conveys pure happiness and joy in its lyrics and production which makes it, on a musical level, a great choice for a celebration. However, she shared a story of when she decided to make the decision to open the broadcast launch with it. Debuting New Year’s 2016, Chi-Town rising was Chicago’s New Year’s party designed to compete with New York City’s classis ball-dropping tradition. Shawn recounted that they played, or played a band like, Maroon 5 to kick off the New Year. Shawn felt it was a missed opportunity to highlight Chicago’s very own talented music scene. “Sunday Candy,” supported by a whole crew of Chicago’s most innovative and excited talent, reflects all of the talent and spirit Chicago’s music scene offers.
For many people, it has been a great decade working towards an exciting and shared goal. For those who have been around less than that (like me), it is exciting to be inspired and motivated by those at the beginning. And for new volunteers, I look forward to hearing their fresh-faced journey. Together, we’ll spend the next ten years to make Chirp even better.