Jerry Lenaz, Walking Encyclopedia of the Air Waves

Published on: March 18th, 2024


Photo by Olivia Greene

--Written by Melissa Milton

It’s Friday, and you’re wondering what to do after work, where to meet up with your friends. Or, you’re in town visiting because, you know, New Orleans music, so you tune in to WWOZ and, at the top of every odd hour, one of the station’s most seasoned volunteers, Jerry Lenaz, has all the details you need. Jerry’s one of the voices behind the LiveWire, the daily listing of which musicians are playing where in the Crescent City.

“At some point I sat down to count how many LiveWires I’ve done, and I think I hit 10,000 last November. I’ve been doing it so long, I can't remember exactly when I started!”

Jerry’s love of radio, and community radio in particular, runs deep and is contagious. He’s been involved with college and community radio stations all over the country, including in New York, Boston, and Boulder, but to Jerry, and to many of us, WWOZ is something different.

“What makes OZ so special as a community radio station, the reason why it’s so different, is that the people involved with the radio station are the people who are living and breathing it on the streets. It’s not controlled by one person, but by all the different voices of volunteers, not just the show hosts but people like me and you who say, ‘I want to get involved in this thing,’ and it becomes a self-fueling thing. You really do get a very authentic sense of what New Orleans is through the medium of radio.”

Jerry will take you on a historical tour of the medium of radio, given the right question and a willing listener. He’s a walking encyclopedia of the air waves, and he’s generous with his knowledge.

“That’s what radio was meant to do, it was actually designed to be a one-on-one communication, before they realized what the technology could do. You have be more of a storyteller, you’re relying on people’s ears and their imagination to make that connection. What makes it interesting here in New Orleans is the storytelling, how WWOZ weaves the story through its multiple voices.”

Jerry also brings his strong technical background and passion for immersive storytelling to the Fair Grounds each year during Jazz Fest. He’s a director working with show hosts, including Missy Bowen and Gerald French, who broadcast live each day of the festival from the WWOZ hospitality tent, just outside the Grandstand. “We want to give the Jazz Fest experience to people who aren’t there. I love being behind the scenes at Jazz Fest because it is like watching a whole city getting built over time. There’s a lot of logistics!”

Patch cables and sound boards aside, being an OZ volunteer means more to Jerry than even the fascinating possibilities of what radio is and can be.

“It’s an intangible feeling, because it’s both a giving and receiving feeling. I’ve learned so much about New Orleans music, its culture and characters, from DJs to musical icons and culture bearers, and felt that I have to give back in some way to keep that “engine” going. I couldn’t imagine my life story without WWOZ.”

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