‘THE VILLE’ Challenges Conventional Radio Wisdom

A few months ago, what was formerly gospel station 102.1 The Light morphed into 102.1 THE VILLE, whose catchphrase is “Soul of Music City.”
      This new incarnation represents the ultimate vision of the station’s program director Shannon Sanders. Sanders’ bona fides as a producer, composer, and musician are extensive and include Grammy and Emmy awards, and he has long been a leader in Nashville’s African-American music community. His background as music director for India.arie alone would give him a ton of street cred, but his leadership was underscored when be became the first black president of Nashville’s NARAS chapter.
      It was through a classmate in the Leadership Music class of 2017 that Sanders was able to realize his dream for a local radio station like THE VILLE. “Bud Walters was one of my classmates, and we became very close,” Sanders says. “He owns over 20 stations nationwide through the Cromwell group including 102.5 The Game (sports talk), 102.9 The Buzz (rock), and what was then 102.1 The Light. He said the station wasn’t doing very well. It wasn’t resonating with the community, neither the listeners, nor the music community. No one was responding to it. He asked me what I thought, and I told him that what Nashville needed was a classic R&B station, but one that was locally connected.
      “I don’t come from a radio background,” he explains. “I come from a production background, and when he asked me if I wanted to take over, I said not really, but I would do it because the biggest catch-22 I’ve seen in Nashville over the years from the standpoint of indie and black music groups was that locally there was no station playing their music. So you couldn’t book shows because promoters didn’t know who you were, and no one knew who you were because you couldn’t get any airplay. That is something I set out to change.”
      Aside from its menu of classic soul and funk, local and independent artists are aired weekdays from 7-9 a.m. and once again from 4-6 p.m.. Saturdays they are featured from 3-4 p.m., and there are plans to extend that even further with the addition of an hour of local artists at noon. Some of the local artists now being played in regular rotation on the station include Typhanee Fitzgerald, Jonathan Winstead, Myshel Britten, Jason Eskridge, Laura Reed, Rome Logan, Jeremy Whaley, Rio Ville, William Davenport, Morgan Bosman, R.Lum.R, K-Rob, and Emoni Wilkins.
      “We’re focusing on the music first and foremost,” Sanders explains. “We’re not here to create stars or personalities of on-air people. We want to build the careers of the local musicians, and also be a mirror that reflects the experiences of our listeners. Where were you when you first heard those classic Al Green or Aretha or Earth, Wind & Fire songs? We want you to think about that when you listen to us. We’re giving you more music than any other local station by a wide margin because we don’t have to adhere to any corporate format. There’s no contests or stunts. There’s no shows or DJs. We’re really more like Pandora or Spotify because we’re just all about the music.
      “The feedback that we’ve gotten so far has been tremendous,” he continues. “We’ve already vastly exceeded the numbers that 102.1 The Light got, and we just anticipate that things will keep getting better and numbers will continue going up. But our goal is to make this an authentic Nashville classic R&B station. That’s why we call it ‘THE VILLE.’ That’s how our listeners refer to Nashville. We want to reflect the vibe, the sensibility, the sound of black Nashville, and we think if we do that, in turn people will welcome us because they will hear that we are real and we are authentic.”
      “We are in this for the long haul,” Sanders concludes. “We’re not going to change the format or alter what we’re doing now. We are convinced that there’s an audience out there for classic soul and funk, as well as one that wants to hear what new and contemporary artists are doing locally. They’ve never had that platform, and that’s what we’re giving them now, and I think it shows that this community is ready for it, as well.”