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A look back at live concert broadcasts on WYEP

Rusted Root performing at WYEP in 2013.
Rusted Root performing at WYEP in 2013.

WYEP is celebrating our 50th anniversary, and we’ll be sharing aspects of the station’s history throughout the year.

On December 31, 1994, WYEP broadcast a New Year's Eve concert by Rusted Root. The band had released their major label debut album, the now platinum-certified "When I Woke," just four months previous. “That was pretty crazy. Selling out A.J. Palumbo Center for a Pittsburgh band, and we found a way to do it for no money,” said Mikel Ellcessor, who was WYEP's program director at the time. “That was really, really fun. It's just like love.”

From the stage that night, Liz Berlin told the crowd how well things had been going for the group recently. “Since we last spoke, there's been so much crazy stuff happening. We've been driving around on a bus with Dave Matthews Band and making videos!”

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Berlin also expressed her gratefulness to Pittsburgh music fans. “This is really wonderful,” she said from the stage. “I have to say I'm really, really impressed with the people of this city for the amount of support there is for local music nowadays. Seriously!”

Things were taking off nationally for Rusted Root, and WYEP was wrapping up its 20th anniversary year. Ellcessor explained that the concert was an example of the changes that were happening. “It was very ‘for us, by us.’ I mean — this was us, this was our culture that we were creating, and we were enjoying, and we were celebrating it ourselves.”

At midnight, the band and sold-out crowd rang in 1995 together with the listeners of WYEP.

Broadcasting live concerts on WYEP wasn’t new. In fact, we aired live gigs from around the community during the station’s earliest months of existence, including daily broadcasts from the Shadyside Art Festival on Walnut Street in August 1974. Performances were carried live from the jazz groups Muscadine, the Mike Boyd Jazz Band, and the Rodef Shalom Jazz Band, as well as the rock band Phillippe.

Among the most significant Pittsburgh concerts that we were able to broadcast live was Coldplay on March 2, 2003. The British group was touring in support of their second album "A Rush of Blood to the Head" and were playing a show at the A.J. Palumbo Center. It was a special night for the band as well as for WYEP, as it was frontman Chris Martin’s 26th birthday.

“After six long years, we finally make it to Pittsburgh,” declared Martin, as the band launched into their first song, “Politik.” “And we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else today!”

The most awkward part of the Coldplay broadcast was that the band performed some then-unreleased songs that they didn’t want possibly recorded by WYEP listeners. “Pour Me” (written as “Poor Me” on the concert’s official setlist) was later a B-side to “Fix You” in 2005, “Moses” was included on the live album "Live 2003" in the fall of that year, and “A Ladder to the Sun” remains unreleased. WYEP had to cut away from the live concert during those performances. "Live from the A.J. Palumbo Center, Coldplay — only on 91.3 WYEP, Pittsburgh," the host in WYEP’s East Carson Street studios announced after Coldplay finished “God Put a Smile Upon Your Face” when we were forced to cut away from the concert. The host filled the gap with songs by the Oregon instrumental band Pell Mell until we were able to rejoin the performance with the song “Daylight,” which must have been strange for listeners tuning in to hear Coldplay but instead getting unrelated instrumentals.

From the Dead to Coldplay to Pittsburgh’s own Rusted Root, carrying concerts live on the air has always been a feature on WYEP’s airwaves, and a practice we plan to continue into WYEP’s next half-century.

Although it will not be broadcast live, be sure to join us at our 50th Anniversary concert at the Byham Theater on April 16 featuring Shawn Colvin and KT Tunstall (tickets are on sale now). And listen on April 30 as we share listener’s stories of WYEP memories during that day. If you want to share a story about how WYEP has been meaningful in your life, go to wyep.org/memories.

Mike Sauter started at WYEP in 2004 and held various positions, including Midday Mix host, music director, program director, and station manager.
Director of Creative Services and host of The Grooves Brian Siewiorek came to WYEP in 2004 from WCBU in Peoria, Illinois, where he worked as a journalist, hosting All Things Considered and managing operations. His award-winning career has included stints in rural Alaska as well as WKSU at Kent State in Ohio.