By Madison Xagoraris
My first memory of listening to Greek music was in the back of my father’s car. He was driving — where? I do not know — and he was playing this lively music with words I mostly did not understand. He was playing an album called “Opa Opa,” by Antique, a duo consisting of Helena Paparizou and Nikos Panagiotidis, who came from Sweden and created an album blending lyrics in Greek and English with a Nordic dance-pop beat.
For a decade, my Greek music repertoire was limited to the music my father collected during his trips to Greece. It was not until 2015, when my cousin Lia visited me from Greece, that I started listening to recent releases from popular singers like Nikos Oikonomopoulos and Pantelis Pantelidis.
Many Greeks in the United States are limited in their choice of music consumption. For those who do not go to Greece every summer, it can be difficult to stay up to date on new music, up-and-coming artists or popular trends.
Independent local radio can partially close the gap left by the rise of large corporate chains. The U.S. is home to many different languages; unfortunately, a lot of those languages are not represented by commercial radio. Local stations play an important role by reinforcing a sense belonging and community.
One such example is KefiFM, a Boston-based Greek music outlet that resembles stations heard in Greece. Designed to be a “people’s station,” with fun commercials and jingles, the station does not broadcast over the air. Instead, it streams music online 24 hours a day. Listeners may tune in on the station’s website or by downloading the KefiFM app.
“You know, the only way to get stuff was to go to these small gift shops or record stores that were owned by some Greek, and there were maybe three of them in Massachusetts,” said DJ Yanni, one of the two-founders. “And when you went to Greece, you would say, ‘Hey, bring me back some CDs,’ or you’d go to Astoria Greek Music and Video and stock up and drive back to Boston.”
During the day, listeners are treated to the latest pop hits you hear playing on the radio in Greece with new music released every Friday. At night, the station takes a mellow tone, playing music including laïka and zebeikika. You can also play DJ by using the app to ask that your favorite song be heard during the all-request hour at 1 p.m.
Highlighting local voices
What makes KefiFM successful, though, is not the variety of music but its dedication to serving the local community. KefiFM makes it a priority to highlight local voices and businesses in New England.
“KefiFM is really about community. It’s about bringing people together and helping not only the current generations but continuously keeping the culture going through music,” said DJ Christos, the other co-founder. “But music is the glue of a lot of other pieces.”
The events calendar, which covers Boston and extends throughout New England, is a popular hub for listeners to submit events and concerts. The website also has a growing database called Kefi Hub for Greeks and Greek Americans to promote their businesses. Kefi Hub was created during the pandemic as a method to identify and support Greek-owned real estate agencies, designers, automotive services, health and nonprofit organizations.
Radio in the Greek community also serves to preserve and celebrate the richness of Greek culture.
Meletios Pouliopoulos is a historian, archivist and founder of Greek Cultural Resources, a nonprofit that preserves Greek American heritage. Based in Boston, he produces and hosts the weekly radio program “Mondays with Meleti,” which can be heard on “Grecian Echoes,” a national service that can be heard in Boston on WNTN (AM 1550) and that also streams lives over the internet. Pouliopoulos features vintage recording and provides historical context to the music.
“Traditionally, Greek music conveys our history, our feeling, and our sentiments. And the language is an expression of it. But the whole package right us know this is Greek music, this is ringing through to us,” said Pouliopoulos. “I’m concerned over the loss of our history, music, and culture and hope that my radio programs connect Greek Americans with their rich and long-lost heritage.”
In addition to commercially produced music, Pouliopoulos will often feature live acts, field recordings, old radio commercials and excerpts from historic radio broadcasts that he has archived at Greek Cultural Resources. He regularly interviews Greek American musicians and scholars to inform the public of their work and of the great depth of the Greek American history and music tradition.
“I realized that one of our big traditions, our music tradition, was disappearing, and there was always this push to move forward,” said Pouliopoulos.
Independent radio like KefiFM and “Grecian Echoes” help connect Greek Americans to a larger continuum of culture by broadcasting music specific to our culture. Indie matters for other communities as well. Unfortunately, nearly all ownership limits on radio stations were lifted a quarter-century ago, leading to the rise of giant conglomerates. The two largest, iHeart and Audacy, control nearly 1,100 stations across the country, mostly playing predetermined set lists and talk shows with little in the way of local programming.
Public radio stations stand out as a high-quality alternative, but it has not been immune from homogenization, with many of them mainly offering national programs such as “Morning Edition,” “All Things Considered” and entertainment shows such as “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” Smaller public radio stations, often based at colleges, tend to cater to the musical tastes of students and younger alums. By contrast, truly independent stations, whether online or over the air, stand out by providing for and celebrating the communities they serve.
Take, for example, WNHH-LP, a low-power FM radio station that’s part of the New Haven Independent, a nonprofit digital news outlet that covers New Haven, Connecticut, that is deeply devoted to serving residents of the city. The station, which also streams on the Independent’s website, features programs on a wide variety of subjects, from the arts to the business community, from local politics to racial justice. The hosts, mostly volunteers, are nearly all people of color, thus reflecting the diversity of a place where whites have long been in the minority.
“It’s about living here, being part of the community, and caring about it,” said Paul Bass, the founder of both the Independent and WNHH. “Relationships for understanding, for the context of your community. You’re plugged into your community, it’s a two-way conversation.”
Diversity and community
Local radio outlets have a unique style because they have the opportunity to engage with their community more effectively than big corporate radio stations. While they operate on a smaller scale, it provides them with the chance to provide a platform for diverse voices and strengthen a sense of community.
Independent radio, particularly in the Greek community, provides a certain nostalgic context that larger radio stations cannot provide. I can engage in a two-way conversation with a producer who is not only indulging their own preferences but who also wants to educate listeners about music they may or may not already know.
Greek culture thrives in the United States with the passing of stories, virtues, and traditions from the older generations to the young. Music becomes tradition passed from one family member to another, like my father to me. KefiFM’s founders hope future generations will continue to build the station and celebrate Greek culture and spirit.
“We’re looking to pass the baton for the next person to run with. At some point, someone needs to pick it up and continue helping the community propagate and share not only the traditional or the classic music, but also the modern, the new music,” said DJ Christos. “Entertaining people and informing people in what’s going on in the society, in the Greek community.”
Madison Xagoraris is a graduate student in the Media Advocacy Program at Northeastern University’s School of Journalism. Listen to her talk about this story on the latest edition of the “What Works” podcast.