Bill Gruber wants you to lend him your ears. The programming and music director at WAPS-FM 91.3 "the Summit" in Akron is a self-professed "lyrics person," interested in intellectual music and musicians who can write. Those preferences drive the station's adult-alternative musical philosophy.
"We're a part of [that] genre of radio formats which aren't getting the greatest exposure [in Ohio]," Gruber says. "Our ethos is defined in appealing to people who have lost a home on the radio. They want to be tuned in, yet turn to talk radio by default. They don't want the same 300 songs every day."
Everything about WAPS is aimed at a sophisticated 25-55 demographic. Deep, resonant bumper announcements evoke FM-radio nostalgia.
Alejandro Escovedo, XTC, Rickie Lee Jones, Beth Orton, and Spearhead all sound off. But that's not all: When the eclectic mix gives way to getting the Led [Zeppelin] out, it never sounds disingenuous.
Guber airs the wildly popular "World Café"-- a syndicated Triple-A format artist showcase -- along with ethnic and cultural programming. Jazz, hip-hop, zydeco, and world emerge on nights and weekends.
"People tell me they can't believe it. They compare us to classic WMMS, which was not only well done, but had the respect of industry and listeners," Gruber says. "That feels pretty good. Obviously, we try to honor that spirit of those pioneering days."
WAPS is one of seven Northeast Ohio stations with noncommercial status; only Streetsboro's WSTB-FM 88.9 "the Alter-Nation" can be considered a peer. Both stations have contemporary bents and defy both satellite and terrestrial radio by remaining ad-free and challenging the status quo in programming. WAPS is funded through listener donations, as well as corporate and private sponsorships.
Its focus remains on the Akron-Canton market, though some 7,000 listeners stream WAPS daily on computers across the Midwest. While the station doesn't podcast, interactive set-list tickers and links to iTunes on its website allow access to songs played in a 24-hour period.
Gruber says he has "complete myopia," focusing on upcoming streaming-audio and digital signal upgrades. Rollouts planned for coming months are strictly under wraps.
World domination may not be in the cards for WAPS, but Gruber likes the station's niche. "In the end, you might not love every song you hear," he says. "But if you acclimate yourself to the mix of old and new . . . you might just give us one of those buttons on your radio."