WRFL hits ‘Big 3-0’

WRFL, at 88.1 on the FM dial, has been fulfilling its mission in Lexington for an incredible thirty years. Next weekend, March 2nd through March 4th, WRFL will be throwing an epic party in celebration of thirty years as a pivotal force in Lexington.

Photo by Arden Barnes

WRFL was started back in 1988, when “College radio was a vibrant media platform for punk rock and alternative music culture,” says Phillip Kisling, the station’s promotions director. After a year of research and fundraising by Kakie Urch, lovingly referred to as their “punk rock godmother”, WRFL hit the airwaves to offer Lexington “a source of music, news and other programming not regularly found through other media outlets in central Kentucky.” In doing so, the station has been foundational in the education and training of many of Lexington’s broadcasters, sound engineers, and music producers, fulfilling the first part of their mission, “to provide its members with professional training and guidance in radio operations management, program development, and quality broadcast performance.”

For thirty years, WRFL has been providing a creative and informative outlet for Lexington and has helped greatly in fostering a sense of community around town in the music and art we celebrate. While affiliated with UK, WRFL works with the entire community, accepting interns from many area colleges. Students in fields such as broadcasting, journalism, marketing, business, engineering, music or art can find a place to learn their career with hands-on training and encouraged creativity.

Being a DJ at WRFL is an opportunity many around Lexington can claim. They have an open door policy at the station: as long as folks commit to three training weekends and some studio time shadowing an experienced DJ, anyone in the community –not just UK students, can host a show of any theme as long as the content complies with FCC and UK stipulations.

Featuring everything from social activism, to mental health issues, LGBTQ topics, to Russian radio, WRFL is a blank canvas that encourages the creativity of the community to thrive. “We’re really an open door, despite being in a basement,” Ben and Phil joked, and are excited for when the studio gets to move into the new Student Center that is currently under construction.

WRFL has provided that “bridge or handshake” between UK students and the city where they may be finding themselves for the first time. Kisling spoke of how he hated Lexington when he arrived as a UK undergrad from Louisville: “It wasn’t until I found WRFL that Lexington opened up to me.” The station became an introduction to Lexington’s alternative music and art scene, and in turn, many of those musicians and artists have appeared in the studio or have been a dj themselves.

All of this successful collaboration, creativity and love for commercial free radio will culminate in the 30th Birthday Bash for WRFL happening over an entire weekend at The Burl. The lineup for the venue is to celebrate WRFL, and will feature a special draft from Blue Stallion Brewery, a mango IPA called “The Only Alternative Left”, celebrating the station’s motto.

Washed Out is the big headliner on Friday the 2nd, with openers Idiot Glee and Helado Negro.

Kisling and Allen are very excited to bring such a big name to Lexington, offering their supporters and audience a chance to see a band they would normally have to travel a long distance to pay much more money to see at a bigger, less intimate venue. There is an after party for that show as well, featuring Hell Bent Hearts, Just a Test, and The Yellow Belts.

Saturday’s festivities begin during the day at the Downtown Arts Center, where thirty years of DJs will reunite and celebrate at a free, family-friendly exhibit of Rifle Magazine, the station’s program guide. The evening will be back at The Burl headlining Cults, with openers Ellie Herring, Hair Police and Devine Carama, along with an after-dance party with DJ’s.

The next day they are hosting a “Hangover Brunch” and are bringing in all the nostalgia, with bands that were playing when WRFL was first hitting the airwaves all those years ago, featuring Ten Foot Pole and Nine Pound Hammer, along with the younger phenoms of Johnny Conqueroo. That brunch also promises to feature a collaboration between the generations when some of the original musicians will be performing with their own musical kids, as the generations pass the baton and the great music keeps on playing.

Such a magical celebration the folks at WRFL have put together for us, a celebration of thirty years of alternative music on commercial free airwaves, a collaboration of some of the best and hardest working creative minds in town. For thirty years WRFL has held true to the mission, and next weekend’s celebration promises to be an incredible apex for the “Only Alternative Left.”

Listen to Cara’s conversation with Phillip Kisling and Ben Allen:

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