Music fans around the region - and around the globe - celebrated this morning as KEXP began broadcasting from its new home at Seattle Center.
"This could only happen in Seattle," executive director Tom Mara told an audience of several hundred supporters who gathered to witness the beginning of a new chapter for the 43-year-old radio station.
Morning Show host John Richards ushered in the new era by playing the first song at 9:03 a.m. (because 90.3 FM). After an emotional pause on-air, he chose Viva! Sea-Tac by Robyn Hitchcock.
"I've been doing this a while and I don't get nervous on the mic, but today I was nervous on the mic," Richards said. "This is so many years of work. 40 years, really.
"It's an honor to play the first song."
Many consumer brands define the culture in Seattle and KEXP is one of those, along with Starbucks, Nordstrom, REI and others. With its global online audience and new home at Seattle Center, which will include a community space to watch live music, it's very much a part of Seattle for many music aficionados.
"It's been a long journey but it's all been worth it," said Mike McCready, the Pearl Jam guitarist and station supporter whose wife Ashley O'Connor McCready co-chaired the capital campaign for the new home. "The thing that sold me is how (the new home) is going to help young bands."
KEXP, which started out as KCMU, is a nonprofit independent affiliate of the University of Washington.
The station still has a little over $1 million to go on its $15 million capital campaign for the new home and is planning an official grand opening in April. The move from its home on Dexter and Denny comes after 14 years there, thousands of live performances (more than 500 in 2015) and the launch of several important musical acts in recent years, including Macklemore and Ryan Lewis and the Lumineers.
KEXP has more than 200,000 listeners each week, about 25% who listen online. (The New York market is second to Seattle-Tacoma.) The station's YouTube channel, which features the live broadcasts recorded at the station by more than 300 artists per year, has nearly 750,000 subscribers and almost 2 million videos viewed each week.
"When we moved into that home we were so small and just starting to do so many exciting things," said afternoon DJ Cheryl Waters. "And the thousands of in-studios that we've had there have just been groundbreaking.
"I'm going to miss the space but I'm so excited to be here where we can do so much more. We can take what we started at the old home even further."