Most radio stations operate under the philosophy that you know what to expect when you turn the dial to its frequency. It’s that certainty that keeps listeners tuning in routinely. Want alternative rock? Go to FM 102.1. Hip hop and R&B? Try V100.7. Top 40? There’s 103.7 KISS FM.
For the last 37 years, one Milwaukee radio station has been doing things a little differently and attempting to subvert listener’s expectations. That, of course, is the city’s true left-of-the-dial destination, WMSE 91.7. With its free-form programming, an uninformed listener might be treated to jazz, rap, metal, big band or salsa music depending on what time they put on the station. (I would listen to lo-fi garage rock tunes on Buzz’s Garage every Monday at 6 p.m. to pump me up on the drive to a bartending shift on a typically slow night).
Other than morning and afternoon drive shows, WMSE’s diverse schedule makes it one of the few stations that demands appointment listening (the programs are also archived on the website for those who miss it over the airwaves). And with a long list of DJs in charge of its one time slot, each program feels like a deep dive into the genre rather than just skimming the surface.
On Saturday, March 17 at Potawatomi’s Northern Lights Casino, the station celebrates its 37 years with a concert from Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, a band that released its self-titled debut one year prior to WMSE going on the air. Local synth pop group GGOOLLDD opens the show. The performance starts at 8 p.m. (In honor of the anniversary, the Times Cinema, 5906 W. Vliet St., will be holding a special “Friday Night Freak Show” screening of Spinal Tap on Friday, March 16, at 8 p.m.)
“To have OMD be our anniversary headliner is personally a big deal for me and I am sure most early 80s music fans in the city,” WMSE’s general manager Tom Crawford said in a press release.
After 37 years of successful counterculture programming, WMSE won’t succumb to falling back into familiar routines and going through the same motions.
“There are big changes coming to WMSE in 2018 and we can’t wait to share them with you,” Crawford said.