WXPN holds The Key to Philly’s music scene

Dr. Dog

The Key highlights bands like Philly’s Dr. Dog

Songs—in the key of Philly—have a new online home.

WXPN, Penn’s renowned rock radio station, rolled out its latest endeavor, a website called The Key, in early September. At thekey.xpn.org, music fans will find blanket coverage of the thriving Philadelphia scene, a vibrant and diverse one that’s growing every day.

In selecting the name, WXPN harkened back to a certain bespectacled American founding father and founder of Penn. If Ben Franklin had never discovered electricity we wouldn’t have electric guitars and we wouldn’t have rock ‘n roll, Editor Matthew Borlik explains.

“The music discovery process should be an electrifying one,” he says. “It should hit you like a bolt of lightening. It should be amazing, awesome, a complete thrill. That’s something we want to share with our readers.”

The Key is one of 12 websites in the Argo Network, a collection of sites created by National Public Radio member stations committed to strengthening local journalism. The sites cover a range of topics that include global health, climate change and public safety, but The Key is the only one focused exclusively on the arts.

“There’s a reason why NPR chose us to do music,” says Borlik, who came to Philadelphia from Washington, D.C., where he worked for that city’s Onion and City Paper. “It’s got tons of different music going on, not just indie rock or folk or hip-hop. A scene lives and dies by the number of local musicians, and I can say that most cities don’t have as strong a scene as Philly.”

A pilot program funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Argo Network provides site design and guidance. WXPN is responsible for the site’s content.

“We see this as an opportunity to be the unifying thread for everything we’re doing locally,” says Roger LaMay, WXPN’s general manager. “What we think we bring to the table besides that clout and relationships is the ability to add a whole lot of original content. We can bring bands into the studio and record things. The site is about discovery and covering great local music.”

Throughout the years, few have done that better than WXPN. Each day The Key runs something called the Snooze Alarm, a roundup of local music news from around the web.

Philadelphia’s music scene doesn’t get up early enough for a morning roundup, reads the intro. While the rest of the world is sipping on their lattes and reading about international affairs, we’re nursing our hangovers and trying to shake the ringing out of our ears. But that doesn’t mean we don’t like to (eventually) stay informed. Snooze Alarm presents Philly’s most important local-music-related news, whenever the scene finally gets around to making it (and the rest of us are ready to read it).

While aggregation is an important part of most information disseminating websites, original content is what sets The Key apart. Regular contributors include longtime local music champions like WXPN Program Director Bruce Warren and radio host Helen Leicht. They write about bands, singers and songwriters who connect with their musical souls. But even they would be the first to say that words are no substitute for music, so sound is a common commodity throughout the site. Downloadable MP3s, streaming music and live recordings are a prominent part of The Key.

Every Sunday night WXPN’s John Vettese brings a Philadelphia band into the station’s studio for an in-house interview and recording session. The resulting Key Studio Sessions are posted weekly, and already have featured heavyweights like The Dead Milkmen.

“That’s something we can do that no one else can,” LaMay says. “XPN is a primary partner of NPR, we’re their leading radio partner on NPR Music. We originate World Cafe, which is now on close to 200 stations. We are strong locally and regionally, and we’re national. From Baltimore to the Poconos, we are going to draw in the whole region, and yet also be intensely local.”

A music scene encompasses more than just musicians. That’s why Borlik is also determined to cover everyone else that keeps Philly music on the map—from promoters and producers to bouncers and bartenders—as well as stories on local venues, trends and hot-button issues.

A bass player (“the easy guitar,” he jokes), Borlik is partial to mid- to late-‘90s angular punk, but nevertheless has a broad taste in tunes.
“Any music you make is directly related to all the musical input you take in,” he says. “I’ve always been extremely interested in local music both in terms of making it and covering it. I think it’s really exciting when you have an existing organization that’s jumping into the blogosphere.”

“We really believe that as we see this thing through, this can be a part of what raises the elevation and visibility of the Philly scene,” LaMay says.

Originally published on September 30, 2010