The Greater Dayton area station took a pitch from their local library system and turned it into a beloved event series that gets great music in a place you wouldn’t normally expect it.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, people found many different ways to pass the time. Bread was baked, shows were binged, and big ideas were discussed, waiting for the chance to turn all that pent up excitement of a great concept into action. For Yellow Springs, Ohio station WYSO, one of those big ideas actually came to them.
“It is a concert series that was conceived of by our partners at Dayton Metro Library,” explains Music Director Juliet Fromholt. “They came to us with the idea, like, ‘Okay, so we love Tiny Desk [Concerts]. We spent a lot of time in the pandemic watching Tiny Desk, and what if we did something where we brought music into the library?’” From those conversations came their version of the beloved NPR Music series, this one called “Tiny Stacks.”
Tiny Stacks was conceived to bring music into the library, transforming it from a quiet sanctuary into a vibrant space of musical exploration. “A library is a community hub,” Fromholt recalls from the inception of the idea. “We were very interested in the kind of Tiny Desk inspiration of putting music in a space that is a little unusual.” And for her, there was something very simple about the partnership of local music and local space. “It’s accessible, it’s free, it’s open to the public. It’s in a space where families can come and feel comfortable.”
The series launched in July 2022, moving into 2023 with five different concerts across five different library branches. The goal was to ensure that the music resonated with the local demographic of each branch where the concerts were held. “The branch manager can often tell us, ‘Hey, we get a lot of kids or a lot of elders,’ or ‘This is the type of music that I think they would like the most,’” Fromholt says.
Fromholt leads her team to not only curate the music, but also drive that special kind of community-based music discovery noncommercial stations do so well. Tiny Stacks is just another chance to better understand the community’s preferences. “We try to think about going through artist submissions as pairing the right artists with the right community to both to tow that line of giving folks something that they’re going to be excited about, but also introducing to something new.”
Much of Tiny Stacks is a balancing act in that regard. It also aims to bridge the gap between library-goers and WYSO listeners, encouraging cross-engagement between these two community groups. “There are also people who haven’t been into one of our local libraries in a really long time, but love WYSO, and so we’re hoping that they’re going to come and check out what the library has to offer.” Fromholt explains. “And the flip side of that is there are lots of people that come to the library that aren’t as familiar with our station, with public media, with what we offer, and we hope that they will learn a little bit about us.”
The Music Director at any given station is a tough job for one person or even a huge team. Supporting Fromholt in these endeavors is her assistant music director, Evan Miller, whom she acknowledged as an essential partner, noting, “He has been with me since I started in this role, and he is just essential. I couldn’t do half of what I did without his support and having him as just a rock solid partner in this.” The station also recently hired a former intern, Peter Day, with the hope to continue to grow not just the team but how they connect to the audience. They build out the music library of the station and trace the musical pulse that makes up the station’s heart, often across many different genres. With Fromholt, she’s eager to say it’s an experience that allows her to grow alongside the audience. “I think it’s admitting that I can’t be the expert in everything, but I’m surrounded by other people who are amazing experts and give me an opportunity to learn from them every day,” she shares. “I think it’s being a curious listener and being unafraid to say the clichéd thing, which is that I like all genres of music. I realize that’s a bit of a cliché, but I think it’s true. I think it’s following your curiosity for sure.”
It’s a kind of curiosity that’s been with Fromholt since she was growing up in the area. “I’ve been involved in the local music scene here since I was a teenager,” she shares. “And there’s something really, really special here, and I know everybody says that about their local music scene, but there’s something really special here and there’s something worth supporting here.”
Fromholt’s belief in the power of local music drives many of WYSO’s community engagement initiatives. This ethos is also prominently showcased in her weekly live music show, Kaleidoscope, which provides a platform for local bands. “I get to give bands their first interview, their first time on the radio, and then five years later they come back and they’ve grown and they’ve evolved,” she shares.
Through the programming of Fromholt’s shows (she also hosts another, Alpha Rhythms), the shows from all the other DJs, and initiatives like Tiny Stacks, WYSO not only promotes local music but fosters a stronger sense of excitement that connects the staff, community groups, and among the area’s residents. “I want people to come to me with their kind of wild ideas like, ‘Hey, we want to do a micro concert in a library,’” Fromholt says excitedly. This approach allows the radio station to serve as a conduit for musical exploration and local engagement, bridging different segments of the community through the universal love of music. The motto for Public Radio Music Day 2023, “Building Community Through Music,” was chosen to highlight that all public stations find ways to listen to their community and echo their voice, but WYSO’s commitment to growing connections across beloved cultural institutions shows what noncommercial music stations truly do best.