Madisonians missing their daily dose of Lee Rayburn no longer have to do without. The progressive radio host is returning to the morning beat with Willy Street Media (WSM), a non-profit podcast and blog focusing on Madison-based artists and activists. This new project picks up where he left off last autumn when dropped from the airwaves at The Mic 92.1, just before its management at Clear Channel made its abortive attempt to change formats to sports talk.
"I just needed a place to say something," says Rayburn, "so I thought I'd give it a try."
Launched on Monday, Apr. 2, WSM publishes a podcast recorded weekday mornings in the conference room at Escape Java Joint & Art Gallery on the 900 block of Willy. "We're just trying to get this rolling slowly," Rayburn says. Organized over the last several months by Rayburn and his two primary partners -- Ted O'Donnell (of Mad Cat pet supplies) and Joe Connolly (of Geneva Mortgage) -- the non-profit is currently operating out of the Social Justice Center just up the street.
All of this comes on top of Rayburn's ongoing guest stints for The Rachel Maddow Show and The Sam Seder Show on Air America. "That's been my saving grace," he says. "They've been awesome."
The first week's worth podcasts are ready and available for listening directly on WSM's website via an easy-to-use streaming media player. The show kicks off with a report from an anti-war rally at the UW Library Mall and Kohl Center on St. Patrick's Day, followed by series of guest appearances. These include O'Donnell, Escape owner Duane Erickson, Veterans for Peace organizer Buzz Davis, and Madison activist icon Ben Masel.
O'Donnell also provided technical support for Radio Free with Jodie and Lee, a podcast recorded late in 2006. Featuring Rayburn and Jodie Shawback (his partner on The Pro Show morning drive time broadcast on 92.1), the podcast was produced for three weeks at Escape Java Joint, attracting guests and attention as fans of his programs and others on the Clear Channel station successfully organized against the format change. While The Mic has remained formatted as a progressive talk station, though, most of its local programming has not been revived.
This left Rayburn and his partners with an opening to launch WSM, a project with big plans for the future. Their ideas include open doors at Escape for interested guests, experimenting with Wiki software to create an activists' resource, and a series of live concert recordings of local bands, "so people can hear the amazing music being created in their backyards," Rayburn explains.
Their eventual goal will be to act as a daily news operation, with regular interviews and updates on matters in local and state government in addition to its central focus on Madison activists and artists. They would also like to eventually be able to provide video of the show at some point in the future when resources become available.
"I'm very confident that it will work," says Rayburn. "I don't know what it will lead to, but I like being part of the media."