This small office looks like it could be the corner of a teenager's room. Multicolored posters plaster the walls, covering each other like an infinite wallpapering project. Stacks of papers and CDs clutter the desk. The two guys gathered around it—Thomas Anderson and Eric Scholz—are dressed in a mix of hoodies, plaid, skinny jeans, trucker hats and pea coats. They appear as if waiting to be picked up from high school.
Their look suggests lazy days and hanging out, not high ideals; their words, however, are a different story. Though their speech is interspersed with "cool" and "awesome," it's dominated by words like "community" and "philosophy." Anderson and Scholz are leaders at WKNC 88.1-FM, N.C. State University's student-run radio station. Anderson is the general manager, while Scholz directs Sessions@KNC, the station's live recording initiative. And when it comes to the annual Double Barrel Benefit, the pair seems preternaturally mature.
The two-night, all-local, eight-band event will celebrate its eighth year this Friday and Saturday at Kings in Raleigh. The station's largest fundraiser, it could earn WKNC more than $6,000. Its entire budget for the year, Anderson explains, is only about $60,000, just 16 percent of which comes from student fees.
"We can't really do without a major source of funding once a year," he says. "It's kind of been left up to us more and more each year to get out there and find ways to fund the radio station itself."
The money is important, certainly. It was the impetus for former general manager Jamie Proctor, who started building the event in 2003. In the intervening years, though, the Double Barrel and the station itself have sharpened their focus. Triangle music has become a staple of what WKNC does. Its daily Local Lunch and weekly Local Beat programs broadcast area tunes everywhere in the Triangle, thanks to the station's powerful 25,000-watt transmitter. They sponsor both N.C. State's Fridays on the Lawn and Tir na nOg's Local Beer, Local Bands, free opportunities for people to see local bands.
"I really think it shows where our heart is," Nicole Kligerman, WKNC's local music director, says of the station's benefits. "With Raleigh, with the community, with North Carolina: As a radio station, that's what we work with the most to encourage the community aspect of local music, the homegrown nature."
Double Barrel, then, is not only the greatest expression of WKNC's local focus but also a rallying cry for it. The funds raised have often been used in ambitious projects to that end. One year, the fundraiser paid for the station's mobile transmitter, used since to broadcast events live over the air, including the Double Barrel Benefit.
The money has also been used for upkeep to Sessions@KNC, the live recording program that allows bands to come in and lay down takes of their songs, free of charge. WKNC puts the songs up for free download online and publicizes them by playing them over the air.
Though the money raised at the Double Barrel benefits boosts the station's ability to promote local music, it also provides something arguably more important to its mission—local motivation. Double Barrel has become one of the Triangle music community's biggest and most anticipated events. It's sold out for several of the last seven years and has recruited nationally prominent names like The Mountain Goats, Polvo, Annuals and Megafaun.
The atmosphere—charged by the area's biggest music boosters—is often frenzied. When Durham rockers Red Collar took the stage in 2008, for instance, singer Jason Kutchma grabbed the mic with the fervor of a Southern preacher as the band revved. He stomped his boots and spurs on the stage.
"When you're doing something that's local, you're saying something very important," he opined. "You're saying, 'I'm part of something unique. I'm part of something that's special. And where I live has to do with who I am.'"
The shows are yet another outlet provided by WKNC for people in this area to discover its music, but they're also a point of entry for the station's new DJs. Fresh faces are exposed to the energizing concerts.
"It really did have a profound effect not just on our listeners, but the people who do shift DJ work," recalls Steve Salevan, the station's local music director from 2005 to 2008. "They'd go to the Double Barrel and be like, 'Man, I really dig Annuals or The Love Language or Polvo.' Then they would toss it into their sets. In a lot of ways it was a double-sided kind of affair, helping to introduce local music to a lot of our staffers alongside trying to demonstrate to people who would not have ordinarily gone to a rock show that we had an amazing music scene."
It's a process that has kept WKNC and the Double Barrel fresh. This year, they continue with a strong lineup that's anchored by the nuanced and professional pop-rock of The Old Ceremony and the energetic indie rock revivalism of Hammer No More The Fingers. The station stays attuned to the pulse with young bands, too, like the infectious electro-popping Cassis Orange and talented up-and-coming rappers King Mez and HaLo.
The biggest sign of WKNC's continued ingenuity will be given away at the door. For the first time, attendees will be sent home with a compilation featuring the event's artists. It includes one song from each, except for King Mez and HaLo, and was recorded by Scholz using the Sessions@KNC equipment—again, paid for in part by previous benefits.
"It was just days and days of work to put together. It was really difficult to do it in the midst of exams. Final mixes were going out exam week, and I was flipping out," Scholz says. A Park Scholar at N.C. State, Scholz worked on the project from August all the way to December. He and others from the station lugged equipment a mile across campus to the recording site at Caldwell Hall. "It was just so exciting, never a dull moment because each track is so fresh."
The entire event has cost the station about $1,000, the most ever spent on Double Barrel. Given that they're giving a free, made-in-house CD to every person at the door, it's an amazingly economical budget. They accomplished it with trades. Carrboro's Kitchen Mastering and Raleigh's Triangle Duplication readied the CDs in exchange for advertising. Kings offered up the venue, allowing WKNC to keep all money raised at the door because it's likely to be a sell-out. The bands play for free; to them, it's their payment to WKNC for its service.
Says Django Haskins, singer for The Old Ceremony, "Our experience with WKNC in terms of them being supportive of the local scene and exposing people to what all of us are doing has always been great. We're always looking for ways to give back to those guys."
His performance, and that of the other artists, will be inspiration for next year, just as last year was an inspiration for this show. It's a benefit for everybody involved: Concertgoers get a great show and a CD. The station gets an emphatic reminder of the impact its devotion to local music makes. Two birds with one shot, double-barreled.
Clarification (Feb. 7, 2011): The first Double Barrel Benefit was held in January 2004; the planning for the inaugural event began in 2003.