The Fifth Annual Non-Commercial Radio Conference

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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

This past week, I attended the fifth annual Non-Commercial Radio Conference, held in Philadelphia. The conference is a closed door event for professionals who work in a radio format called non-commercial Triple-A. It's a small world of highly influential programmers, who've built a reputation on breaking new and emerging artists outside the traditional boundaries of commercial radio.

By comparison, commercial Triple-A stations are notoriously conservative, playing mostly heritage artists, with rare introductions of new music, while their non-commercial brothers are most interested in being the cultural filter for finding great new talent.

Artists like Beck, Norah Jones, Pink Martini and Coldplay were all broken first on non-commercial Triple-A radio and the magnitude of the format's influence was clearly felt at the conference. Thirty-five Triple-A non-comm's attended, representing influential markets like Los Angeles, New York City, Boston, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia. Over 150 record labels, consultants, independent promoters and managers attended the three-day event with the radio programmers, while 40 bands performed.

There was a breathtaking show by Mary Gauthier, as well as a thoroughly enchanting performance by the incredible Andrew Bird, not to mention Australia's finest Missy Higgins and her natural talent explosion. It's no wonder non-comm Triple-A is often referred to as the eclectic format.

By its very nature non-commercial radio is seen as the last place a good record stands a chance of being heard and respected, without the push and pull antics of questionable ethics. The day the non-comm conference began, 100 miles away, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer served subpoenas to a number of radio promotion executives in New York, to investigate their business practices with commercial radio. Nothing could be further from the hearts and minds of the programmers in Philadelphia.

As was most evident at the conference, KCRW continues to stand as alone as a the brightest beacon in this radio format. Never copied, though often tried, KCRW consistently presents the most progressive, adventurous and responsive music programming in America. Even among their peers, the station is seen as the best in class both here and abroad.

With the advent of online streaming, it's no longer necessary to live in a specific market to gain access to your favorite radio station. The doors of digital progress have blown open and you can find your favorite radio station from anywhere and camp out steadily.

For many, myself included, non commercial radio has become my identity and my inspiration.

In a world filled with strip malls and theme restaurants, I want to identify with folks who really seem to get it, and understand how to give it. No matter where I am, or how my day is going, it's comforting to know I'll always have a friend waiting -- all I need to do is to turn my radio or, for that matter, my computer, on.

Five years on, and this particular conference remains dedicated, focused, and eclectic. What a joy, following the onslaught of promotion driven commercial radio drivel fests that masquerade as discovering talent. In contrast, the non comm. is still a place you can hang your hat.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.