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Chris Daniel's The WBGO Story Opens the Spring 2021 New Jersey Film Festival on January 30!

By Ashley Terer

originally published: 01/19/2021

Chris Daniel

The WBGO Story...Bright Moments from Newark to the World documentary film created by Chris Daniel showcases incredible perseverance and the meaning of community during the rise of New Jersey's first public radio station: WBGO.

WBGO came from humble beginnings, first broadcasting out of a high school, only to become the radio beacon we know it as today. WBGO was originally a tool to teach students the basics of radiobroadcasting and only broadcasted during school days from a Central High School in Newark. Seeing WBGO's potential to be something greater, Bob Ottenhoff, the founder of WBGO, led the search for a better use of the station. After buying a humble abandoned building for the new WBGO headquarters, the radio station began gaining traction with the locals. The rise of WBGO from such an unassuming origin serves as inspiration for any creative undertaking. Despite Newark not having a local newspaper, radio station, or even public television for many people, WBGO's origin story is especially daring. Success was not guaranteed and even unlikely, yet the odds didn't shake them from establishing the first ever all jazz format in public broadcasting.

The obstacles the radio station faced while it was first being assembled were intimidating. In the control room, it got so cold, they could see their breath, and in summertime, there was extreme heat. The anatomy of the building allowed for unwanted noise to get on the air, and they would even face threats of the electricity going off. Regardless of the physical conditions of the studio, the station's determination to keep producing content is encouraging in itself. They aired as if they had world class resources in a perfect environment. Their resilience to these rough predicaments shows the heart the WBGO staff had in wanting to give the masses the best jazz experience they could. The inspiration doesn't stop at the origins of the station, but the timeliness of the station. Only a decade after the Newark riots, a radio station emerged from it. WBGO served as an indicator that things were being revitalized in this new chapter of Newark history. The small, yet diverse group that formed the WBGO staff worked earnestly to bring the city of Newark an enjoyable radio station established locally. However, the powerful impact of community is spotlighted in this film majorly. The success of WBGO was in the hands of the community around them, and through banding together, listeners helped build New Jersey's premier radio station. The tens of thousands of locals who pledged to help the station made a collective effort to see it prosper.

The WBGO Story masterfully emphasizes the beauty of a community wanting to see the art form of jazz being accessible 24/7 to everyone. Newark was the perfect city for a jazz radio station to thrive in as it was a jazz city. Jazz legends including Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Duke Ellington, Buddy Terry, and Duke Anderson among many others that were a part of Newark's jazz scene during their respective careers. The community also banded around jazz as it was played in bars, restaurants, and clubs alike. This cultural groundwork paved the way for Newark's very own jazz radio station to be born, but it was quite a climb to the top.

Since it started from scratch, the radio station modestly started out broadcasting Rutgers University basketball games before it became a jazz giant. With the help of Dorthaan Kirk and her connections to the jazz music scene, WBGO expanded to be associated with some of the biggest names in jazz. The local community could even hear phenomenal music live during one of WBGO's live concerts, including their 24 hour long Jazzathon. Once again, WBGO's close ties with the community can't be understated as these live events would invite the listeners that gave rise to the station a spectacular night. The exciting live music would create another platform in which the locals could get together and enjoy the sound of jazz.

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The WBGO Story also highlights how the station put together free children's concerts, which would inspire the next generation of jazz enthusiasts. Community outreach expanded to art galleries put together by the station where the public could view the stunning artwork of local painters and photographers. As the public gave WBGO a platform to showcase jazz, WBGO gave the public a platform to showcase their wonderful art. WBGO was helping to uplift the community that uplifted them. Before they knew it, doors began to fly open for them to be the only classical jazz station in the metropolitan area. Listeners were touched from all over the world because of their resilience fueled by community and a love for jazz. To this day, WBGO provides classical jazz of every variety including early music, mainstream, bebop, post-bop, and fusion. The station continues to be one of the foremost national conduits that celebrate the art form of jazz.

Here is more info on this screening:

The WBGO Story...Bright Moments from Newark to the World – Chris Daniels (Tinton Falls, New Jersey)

This documentary tells the story of how a group of urban leaders and community activist looking to make a positive change in Newark, NJ came together in the 70's after the Newark riots, to create WBGO, New Jersey's first public radio station. It will tell how this small radio station owned by the Newark Board of Education was turned into a powerful cultural force heard throughout the northern Jersey/New York City region that now reaches millions of Jazz listeners around the world. The documentary features interviews and stories from people who helped launch the station, including its founder, Bob Ottenhoff and Mrs. Dorthaan Kirk (widow of the great multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk), who was key in helping WBGO grow to where it is now. 2020; 55 min.

Saturday, January 30, 2021 - $12=General

Film will be available on VOD (Video On Demand) for 24 hours on Saturday, January 30, 2021.

To buy tickets for this screening go here:

Information: (848) 932-8482;



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