Since the February launch of WWNO’s all-classical station Classical 104.9 FM, New Orleans music lovers can now tune their FM radios to hear Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In addition to the old favorites, longtime WWNO listeners can hear another familiar sound on Classical 104.9’s signal: the voice of local Renaissance man James Arey, who served as Classical Music Host and Music Director for WWNO from 1999 to 2007. Ten years after his departure, Arey is back on the airwaves, hosting classical programming on 104.9 FM Wednesday through Friday from 9:00 a.m to 1:00 p.m.
“It’s amazing,” Arey says. “We got out the calendar and realized I had departed in March of 2007 and was back here in February 2017. So, almost ten years to the week.”
Speaking with warmth and resonance, Arey’s voice is well suited for radio announcing. But his broadcasting career is only a small part of his story. Among the many hats he has worn in his life, Arey is an artist, teacher, composer, former five-time “Jeopardy!” champion, and hotel concierge. In 2006, he was one of 23 candidates for mayor of New Orleans, running on an arts platform. He came in ninth.
“I had actually declared to run before Katrina,” Arey says, recognizing that city’s priorities had understandably changed by Election Day. “[The arts] remained important to me at the time. It still remains very important to me today.”
As a kid growing up, James Arey realized he had an interest in music after finding himself drawn to an object in his grandparents’ house that was largely ignored by those around him: the piano.
“Everybody else in the family treated it as a piece of furniture,” Arey recalls, “And I believe I was the only person in any generation who actually treated it as a musical instrument.”
After teaching himself how to play and sight-read, Arey went on to pursue music in high school and college, studying composition and voice. He was first introduced to radio while attending Indiana University, where he was asked to program shows for the college station. This eventually led to him hosting his own show devoted to classical music.
In addition to his interest in programming, Arey is active as both a composer and artist. In December 2015, a show of his artwork on paper, wood and canvas was on display at Ariodante Gallery and he is currently working to add a few new pieces to the gallery in 2017.
As a composer, he has written works for local performers Thais St. Julien of New Orleans Musica da Camera and harpist Catherine Anderson. He also wrote a piece for chorus, orchestra, and organ for a colleague’s Episcopal ordination ceremony. “That was quite a few years ago,” Arey says, “but I still have my hand in.”
With all of these ambitious projects and a four-hour air shift three days a week, is James Arey working on any projects at the moment?
“I am not!” James says with a grin. “Classical 104.9 kind of has all of my time at the moment.”
James Arey hosts classical music programming from 9 a.m to 1 p.m. Wednesday through Friday on Classical 104.9 FM and the WWNO HD stream.