Coming Clean: 5 Questions with Aaron Sharpe of WNKU

John Kiesewetter of WVXU went so far as to call it “the day the music died,” and for many local listeners, Feb. 15 felt just that sad. It was the day Northern Kentucky University’s board of regents announced the university would sell its beloved campus radio station, 89.7 WNKU-FM, to the Bible Broadcasting Network with plans later this year to replace segments like “Movers, Shakers & Tastemakers” and “Acoustic Café” with Christian-based talk programming.

Aaron Sharpe is one of the longest-standing fixtures at WNKU — he started as a volunteer board operator in 1998 and went on to serve as one of the station’s core producers and on-air personalities, in addition to outside gigs deejaying for the Cincinnati Reds and serving as adjunct faculty at NKU.

Needless to say, the sale comes as a huge disappointment for Sharpe and other members of the team that worked so tirelessly to make WNKU a household name. But as they say in Sharpe’s line of work, the show must go on. And true to the singularly upbeat, never-a-dull-moment style he’s known for, Sharpe already has a few exciting irons in the fire.

1. What's your next big move?
I fully expect there will be more than one big move for me in the near future, but the biggest one I can talk about now is Lucius Q. Two partners and I will be opening a new barbecue, craft beer and bourbon bar at 1131 Broadway in Pendleton this fall. We’ll be serving Texas brisket, Carolina pulled pork and St. Louis ribs, all with a Cincinnati spirit. The name comes from the Roman statesman for whom our city was named – Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus. Lucius Q will feature live entertainment, a patio with indoor/outdoor bar, a private event space and catering.

2. What's been your luckiest break?
In 1999, I was an undergrad at Northern Kentucky University when WNKU’s Development & Marketing Coordinator at the time was called up from the National Guard to serve in Bosnia for 10 months. The station needed someone to temporarily fill in that role while he was gone, so they asked me. The rest is history.

3. What's been your biggest setback?
I’ve been fortunate to not have had many, if any, major setbacks. If anything, it would be learning that Northern Kentucky University wanted to sell the radio station I spent nearly two decades helping to build.

4. Why is Cincy the right city?
You can search dozens of travel articles that all attempt to answer that question. They’re all very flattering, and many are even pretty accurate. But really, it’s the people. It’s Jim Tarbell, Yvette Simpson and Julie Fay. It’s Molly Wellmann, Elias Leisring and Ronda Breeden. Dan McCabe, Ian Bolender, Morrella Raleigh, Rick McCarty, Sean Rhiney and Bill Donabedian. Jackie Reau, Kristen Schlotman, Pam Kravetz and Tamara Harkavy. The list goes on and on. There are just so many people in this town who truly love Cincinnati and have the passion and creativity to help make it great in so many ways. It is such an honor to call most of these people friends.

5. Give a shout out to three people.
So hard to narrow it down to just three (in fact, I’m pretty sure I just cheated a bit in my previous answer), but here goes:

COMMUNITY: Jim Tarbell. Mr. Cincinnati. Obviously, he’s a Cincinnati icon, but he’s so much more than that. He’s such an inspiration to us all. Everything he has ever done has been out of a love for Cincinnati. It’s never been about money or accolades. He is the epitome of civic virtue. We named our restaurant after Cincinnatus because he was such a symbol of civic virtue. He put his city and country first. To me, Jim Tarbell embodies the spirit of Cincinnatus more than anyone else I’ve ever known.

ART: Pam Kravetz. Everyone in the local art scene knows Pam. She’s a local arts icon, and yet, she’s not the curator of an art museum or the executive director of a renowned arts organization. She’s a high school art teacher. She works her magic where it matters most — with kids — and spends the rest of her time making Cincinnati a better place to live through art. Whether it’s co-chairing the annual ArtWorks breakfast, hosting the Carnegie’s Art of Food, founding the (Yarn) Bombshells of Cincinnati or driving a motorized bathtub up Main Street in a costume made from Christmas ornaments, Pam never stops working to bring great art to a larger audience.

HOSPITALITY: Molly Wellmann. What else needs to be said? Her work speaks for itself. There is hardly a better cheerleader for today’s Cincinnati. There’s a very clear reason why she’s in that new Cincinnati Bell commercial, but it’s so much more personal than that. A few months ago, I was sitting at Japp’s with a writer from NYC who was interviewing me for a story. I introduced her to Molly and, within minutes, Molly gave out her phone number and offered her a place to stay the next time she was in town. Molly could not have been more enthusiastic about showing off her city.
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Hannah Purnell is a lifelong Northern Kentuckian who writes extensively about regional issues related to arts and culture, politics and economic development.