Best new way to showcase local music: WBFO´s XPOnential

By Susan Tanner

If you normally turn off WBFO after Fresh Air (as I usually do), you might be surprised to know that these days, there’s more to be heard than jazz at night. From 8–9 p.m., WBFO’s expanded broadcasting continues with their own program On The Border. An outgrowth from the spring XPOnential broadcasts (which can still be heard on the HD-2 station as well as online at, On The Border is co-hosted by four Buffalo music/radio veterans: musician Eric Crittenden, who creates a sonic juke joint by mixing new and old soul; veteran manager Jon Topper, who leans toward the folk, singer/songwriter, and jam-band side of things; and broadcast veterans Mike McKay, who explores all avenues of the term Americana, and Jim Santella, whose music mix harkens back to the days of progressive, freeform radio.

Program director David Benders explains, “This new programming fits well with the core values of the typical public radio listener: they’re curious, lifelong learners, and are looking for the authentic. There’s fertile ground to explore with the public radio listener—and we want to bring a new, diverse audience in to that ground. The On the Border programming uses some of our local assets—Eric, Jim, Mike, and Jon—to bring Buffalo creative artists/musicians to a wider public and make our community a better place in which to live.”

Dovetailing with the On The Border programming is the Buffalo Music Project. Funded by a grant from the New York State Music Fund, the project includes the Wednesday Night Concert series as well as the local show Buffalo Avenues. The Wednesday Night Concert series began with live shows at UB’s Allen Hall and has now broadcast from the Musicians’ Park at the Sportsmen’s Tavern as well as the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society.

Talent producer Alison Zero is enthusiastic about the series. “The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Artists are happy to have a new platform for their work—one that is part venue, part media outlet. Besides the immediate exposure—being on the radio, on our website (, interacting with folks in the theater—there are also residual effects—music appreciators from across the country stumble across these performances on iTunes or via NPR’s main music site (, and the podcast, concert photos, and videos serve as a digital promotional tools, helpful resources for bands trying to secure gigs and print media coverage. It’s a great way for local artists to get their music to the masses, and for us to provide unique, quality programming to our listeners. It’s symbiotic.

“We’ve also received substantial amounts of positive feedback from listeners. They’re hearing music on WBFO they’re not able to access anywhere else on the dial. People want to buy local produce, keep their fridge full of organic goods, and the same goes for music. Buffalonians are big supporters of ‘home grown,’ and that’s exactly what we’re promoting. And beyond live audiences and radio listeners, each month, thousands of people are downloading Wednesday Night Concerts and Buffalo Avenues shows.”

Buffalo Avenues highlights both local musicians and music venues through interviews and live performances. “It took so long to make the first show, I had no idea if I could finish number two in time,” explains reporter Kenny MacDonald. “But every week Alison, Alex Kelly, and I create a new and unique show with live music recorded from around town and interviews with the artists. We highlight the depth of local talent playing their hearts out in local venues ... and a few traveling acts if they roll through town, too. [We create] a podcast they can send to their friends and say proudly, ‘I was on the radio.’

“As we grow, I hope to involve more people with the show and open up some part-time reporter positions,” he continues. “I would also like to see our show broadcast at other radio stations nationally through PRX, NPR’s show-sharing platform. Perhaps other stations would use our show as an example to launch their own local music showcases.”

As with all public radio, the growth and development of this and future programming at BFO depends on the involvement of the community, from attending events to supporting fund drives. Benders, Zero, and MacDonald encourage listeners to suggest performers for the Wednesday concert series and to provide feedback on programming by contacting them at


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