The Local, a bar one block away from Nashville’s Centennial Park in midtown, hums with a beckoning light, open garage doors and roots music on a recent Monday night. Sound check is over. A woman steps on stage, pulls the microphone down to her height and greets the murmuring Monday night audience.
“Welcome to the Local Brew Live,” she says. “I’m your host, Ana Lee.”
Lee, a Nashville radio veteran, is WMOT’s newest on-air host and The Local Brew is her baby—a three-pronged effort to shine light on worthy but undiscovered artists in Music City. There’s a daily featured song at 5:30 am and 5:30 pm, an hour-long interview show on Mondays at 7 pm and the live Local Brew show at 8. The latter hasn’t been broadcast - so far.
“WMOT has always played local music, but they wanted to have more of a focus on it,” says Lee. “My role is bringing (on) artists that are doing cutting edge things that are based in Nashville and Middle Tennessee. There’s artists that have broken from here that are now huge word-wide stars. We’ve definitely got the talent. It’s just a matter of what fits our particular format."
Artists featured on the show have included southern-funk rockers Natchez Tracers, folk multi-instrumentalist Ashleigh Caudill and singer-songwriter Taylor Alexander, who told the host in an on-air interview how his Music City experience has wound up in his songs: “A lot of (my music) is written here in Nashville and centers around learning how to grow up in a new place, and meeting new people and doing something difficult, like putting out your own records and pursuing music and songwriting.”
Ana Lee got captivated by radio growing up in 1970s Los Angeles, where she got a taste of the Deep South and roots music over the syndicated King Biscuit Flower Hour. “I used to think it was so cool to hear a concert at home without actually being there,” Lee recalls. “I think people like to hear that live feeling."
Her first professional gig was at an adult contemporary station in Ventura County, CA in 1984. Almost two decades in commercial radio in Los Angeles saw her spinning alternative rock and heavy metal. In her time spent at metal station KNAC, she got her first experience with live coverage, reporting from national events including The Grammy and MTV Awards.
But she heard the call of Nashville and moved here in 2003 to be a marketing coordinator for The Tennessean, working on events and sponsorships. But she got back into radio, and over eight years at Lightning 100, she became a trusted voice and taste-maker. One of her key slots was hosting their live showcase, Nashville Sunday Night, from 3rd & Lindsley.
“I interviewed a lot of artists,” Lee says. “They seemed to always want to talk about their friends, producers, collaborators, co-writers…so I was constantly getting turned on to new artists that way.”
Ana Lee also worked in the marketing side of the music industry at Capitol Records in L.A., which put her in daily communication with artists—an experience she credits with honing her ear for emerging talent. At the same time, she says, “I think that being in radio helped me more in my other jobs than the other way around - knowing what listeners like and being tapped into what works on the radio—what people respond to. At the label, my bosses would say, ‘Okay so you work at a heavy metal station and we’re putting out a new Megadeth record. What do you think the single is?’ I liked being able to bring that to the table."
While the odds of a Megadeth cut making it onto a roots radio are slim to none, Lee understands the importance of keeping her ear tuned to music beyond Americana. Her latest fascination is revisiting Frank Sinatra, but she also reverts back to 90s trip-hop groups like Morcheeba, Air, and Zero 7. She believes that range is crucial to being a music fan as much as a radio personality.
“A lot of my job is listening to music,” says Lee. “I still listen to music that doesn’t fit WMOT’s format because I have to listen to what I like. I have to remain a fan or else I’ll just get jaded and burned out.”
Find the last two weeks of The Local Brew here.
The Local Brew Live will be carried on the airwaves for the first time on August 19 for WMOT’s 895 Pop-Up Session, featuring Jedd Hughes and King Corduroy.