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Bright lights transform a low deco-style factory in sketch.World Cafe Live and WXPN's home will open in a former factory in West Philly. (Image: architect's rendering).


World Cafe namesake: real music venues

Originally published in Current, Oct. 6, 2003
By Mike Janssen

Soon visitors to Philadelphia’s WXPN-FM can grab a latte or a sandwich and get a seat at a live concert, all under the banner of the station’s flagship show.

Next fall the popular triple-A station will move into a new home, sharing a building with World Cafe Live, an independently operated restaurant and concert venue bearing the name of the music and interview show WXPN airs and syndicates to public radio.

The move partners the station with a for-profit business, Real Entertainment Group, which will serve food, book bands in the WXPN vein and otherwise run World Cafe Live. WXPN will profit by licensing the World Cafe name to Real Entertainment and selling it substantial underwriting.

In addition, the station expects less tangible bonuses such as a stronger reputation among artists coming through the club and listeners who love the music.

“It’s really going to change ’XPN from a virtual to physical place and raise the profile of the station even higher,” says Roger LaMay, g.m.

World Cafe Live will house two venues for live music—an 80-seat cafe with a stage and a 350-seat concert hall. Construction on the $14 million project began in August.
WXPN is raising $4 million, its share of the cost, through a capital campaign, with $1.2 million pocketed so far and an on-air drive set for April. The building’s developer and Real Entertainment pay the rest.

The station has long sought a new home. Employees work in two buildings, visiting musicians have to haul gear up to a cramped third-floor studio, and for World Cafe sessions WXPN must use a recording studio in south Philadelphia.

Longtime station supporter Hal Real, an entrepreneur and former real estate lawyer, knew WXPN wanted to extend its reach into the community. At the same time, the deaths of his father and of a friend had put Real in a reflective mood, and he sought a new career. He imagined creating an upscale music venue for, as he describes it, “people between 25 and 75 who love live music, but don’t want to stand for four hours and have their feet stick to the floor.”

WXPN coincidentally was playing in the background, and he cold-called station management with his pitch. That was five years ago, and Real sounds relieved that construction has begun. “Five years is not a long time in public radio,” he says. “But it’s a long time for an entrepreneur.”

One delaying factor, Real says, was the need to find a building where the radio studios could be insulated from loud performances. Real and WXPN settled on the Hajoca Building at 3025 Walnut Street, a 1921 plumbing factory on the edge of the University of Pennsylvania campus. The university owns the building and is leasing it to the renovator, prominent Philadelphia developer Carl Dranoff.

WXPN will be able to bring its on-air guests into state-of-the-art studios that LaMay says are far more musician-friendly. Windows in the building’s lobby will offer views into the World Cafe studios and another production room. The station’s rent will climb, but LaMay expects revenue to increase as well, as the station benefits from a higher profile and retail sales of T-shirts and other WXPN goods.

Real’s company, not WXPN, will book musicians, but LaMay expects the two to feed off of each other. “We each have our own criteria,” he says. “The good news is that it’ll overlap a lot, but we’ll each go our own way.” LaMay and Real would not discuss how much Real Entertainment will pay in underwriting and licensing fees. But Real says the Philadelphia Inquirer came close in reporting the first year’s payments would total $130,000.

The concept may spread to other cities. Real says public radio and TV stations elsewhere have shown interest in similar ventures. But that will come later, he says: “We’re focusing on our flagship first.”

 

Web page posted Jan. 9, 2004
Current: the newspaper about public TV and radio
in the United States
Current Publishing Committee, Takoma Park, Md.

Update

WXPN signed papers to lease the World Cafe Live site to Real Entertainment Group Dec. 18, 2003. Opening is set for October 2004.

EARLIER ARTICLES

Dave Bunker critiques four national programs that illustrate pubradio's approach to triple-A music, including World Cafe.

OUTSIDE LINKS

World Cafe Live.

World Cafe.

WXPN, Philadelphia.

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