Tag Archives: WBRK

Radio in Mayberry USA

Dick Taylor in front of WPAQ

Like many people my age, we grew up watching television shows like The Andy Griffith Show. My wife and I have been watching every episode on Netflix before turning off the lights and going to sleep. We’re currently in season seven.

Mayberry, NC

While there never was a town in North Carolina named “Mayberry,” Andy Griffith’s home town of Mount Airy, NC embraces the spirit of Mayberry to this very day. In fact, it’s virtually impossible to find any kind of collectible that says “Mount Airy,” but you will have no trouble finding lots of things with Mayberry on them.

We recently took the short drive from our home in Virginia to Mount Airy to visit the Andy Griffith Museum. It did not disappoint.

Historic Earle Theatre

Included with your museum admission, is admission to the Historic Earle Theatre located on Main Street in Mount Airy. Upon entering the theater, the first thing that caught my eye was an “ON AIR” light by the stage and pictures of radio station WPAQ.

The theatre even runs a video presentation about this radio institution, founded by its original owner Ralph Epperson, on Groundhog Day in 1948.

This year’s annual birthday celebration marked the station’s 72nd year of service to its listening area, which always includes a free concert at the Earle Theatre for its loyal listeners.

WPAQ

The first thing I Googled on my iPhone when I saw the call letters WPAQ was to find out what they stood for, as I could not imagine what they had to do with Mount Airy or North Carolina. Turns out, they really don’t stand for anything (much like America’s first commercially licensed radio station, KDKA in Pittsburgh).

In fact, Ralph Epperson said the station actually ran a listener contest to try and give the station a name that went with the call letters WPAQ, but nothing ever really seemed to fit. One listener suggested that they stood for “We Piddle Around Quietly,” but Epperson said that wasn’t what they were looking for.

I think that listener got the idea from the disparaging nickname given to FDR’s Works Progress Administration (renamed Work Projects Administration; WPA). Some people felt Roosevelt’s New Deal program was a waste of money. They assailed this program that employed millions of unemployed people to carry out works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads, along with employing musicians, artists, actors and directors in large arts, drama, media, and literary projects.

The WPA spent $13.4 billion during the Great Depression but detractors of FDR’s get America back to work program said WPA stood for “We Piddle Around.”

So, you can see why Mr. Epperson didn’t adopt this suggestion, as he was a man of progress and forward thinking, he was never one to “piddle around,” let alone quietly.

The Voice of the Blue Ridge Mountains

While Mount Airy always embraced its role as the model for its native son Andy Griffith’s popular television program, WPAQ likewise always promoted and worked to preserve North Carolina’s mountain music heritage as the Voice of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

WPAQ is the source for local news, old-time bluegrass and gospel music, religious services and the broadcast of local obituaries. I truthfully can’t remember the last time I heard obituaries on the radio until I started listening to WPAQ. However, I remember writing many obituaries in my early radio days when I did news at WBRK in Pittsfield, Massachusetts back in the 70s.

The Saturday Merry-Go-Round Show

WPAQ broadcasts live from the Historic Earle Theatre every Saturday from 11am to 1:30pm on a program called the Merry-Go-Round. It’s the second longest continuously broadcast live radio show of its kind in America, second only to WSM’s broadcast of Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry.

WPAQ’s program used to be the third oldest, until WWVA gave up its weekly broadcast of Jamboree USA with then station owner iHeartMedia who moved the program from WWVA to WKKX before ending the weekly broadcasts in 2008. Jamboree USA returned to the air in 2014 on a non-commercial low-power FM in Wheeling.

Mount Airy residents and tourists alike believe live radio music is part of the charm of the area.

Ralph Epperson always said he wanted his radio station to be different, saying “Why should we be like everyone else?”

Ralph Epperson passed away in 2006, but his son Kelly, along with Kelly’s wife Jennifer, co-own and manage the radio station exactly as Ralph envisioned. With one possible exception…

No Static at All

WPAQ was licensed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to broadcast on 740 KC with a daytime power of 10,000-watts, 1,000-watts one and half hours before both sunrise and sunset and 7-watts at night.

On August 6, 2020, WPAQ signed on its brand new FM translator at 106.7 delivering the stations programs in stereo. The station also broadcasts its programming online at  https://www.wpaq740.com/listen-online/ .

During a recent evening walk around my neighborhood, I heard the sound of a fretless, five string banjo coming from a neighbor’s porch. When my neighbor finished his song, my wife and I applauded the performance and commented that he sounded like the music on WPAQ. He responded by telling us that he streams WPAQ on his iPhone and makes regular trips to Mount Airy for the blue grass/mountain music festivals.

Legacy Lasts

In these times of uncertainty, it’s comforting to know that radio stations like WPAQ are keeping family values, traditions and the roots of both this type of music and this type of radio broadcasting alive.

Proving that providing live, local and unique programming never goes out-of-style.

Looking into WPAQ’s main studio from the performance studio.
Announcer desk in performance studio.
Baby grand piano in performance studio.
Main Studio with Jennie Lowry playing records, CDs, & using carts.
Solid wood studio doors from trees grown on Ralph Epperson’s father’s farm.
Ralph Epperson in front of radio station WPAQ, Mount Airy, North Carolina
Ralph Epperson

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Commercial Radio’s 100th Birthday

Election night at KDKA November 2, 1920

On Tuesday, October 27, 2020, commercial radio will celebrate it’s 100th birthday. It was on this day in 1920 that “the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Navigation, which served as the radio licensing agency of the day, issued the first radio license ever to KDKA,” as told on the station’s website.

Radio Call Letters

Ironically, those famous Pittsburgh call letters – KDKA – don’t stand for anything. They were simply assigned to the station with its broadcast license from a roster maintained to provide identification for ocean going ships and marine shore radio stations. KDKA just so happened to be the next set of call letters up for being assigned with a broadcast license.

WJJW

This story is analogous to what happened at my college back in the 70s. I graduated with my bachelor’s degree from North Adams State College in 1974. During my four years at NASC, I helped to obtain the college’s FCC FM broadcast license and become its first general manager. I vividly remember standing in front of a classroom blackboard with my fellow college broadcasters trying to decide what call letters we wanted the FCC to assign to our station. During this meeting a knock came to the door, and the person who knocked handed me an important letter from the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, DC. I anxiously opened the envelope to find that the FCC had granted our request for an FM broadcast license and had pulled the next set of unassigned call letters off the roster to go with our license. Those call letters would be “WJJW.” And like KDKA, they would stand for absolutely nothing and there again, never changed.

Call Letters

Some of the radio stations I listened to over the years had call letters that represented something, like WLS & WCFL in Chicago. WLS owned by Sears, chose call letters that stood for “World’s Largest Store” and WCFL, chose call letters that stood for “Chicago Federation of Labor,” the name of their union. WCFL proudly called itself “The Voice of Labor” at the top of every hour when it was required to give its call letters and city of license.

Do you know what the call letters for WKBW in Buffalo and KHJ in Los Angeles stood for? WKBW’s call letters meant “Well Known Bible Witness” and KHJ had call letters that stood for “Kindness Happiness & Joy.” Neither radio station would mention the origin of their call letters during their Top 40 days.  

Radio stations I worked for and managed also had call letters that represented something:

  • WBEC – Berkshire Eagle Company (the local newspaper)
  • WBRK – Berkshires
  • WUPE – Whoopee Radio
  • WFPG – World’s Famous PlayGround (Atlantic City)
  • KOEL – the first three letters of its city of license, Oelwein, Iowa
  • WLAN – Lancaster, PA
  • WSUS – Sussex, NJ
  • WOND – WONDerful Radio (Atlantic City)
  • WNNJ – Northern New Jersey

Call letters today tend to have been replaced by other forms of identification, like “Kiss,” “Froggy,” or “The River,” with the only problem being that they’ve lost their unique, one-of-kind identity that call letters branding gave them.

When I say KHJ or WBZ, you immediately know I’m talking about a radio station and that the station is located either in Los Angeles or Boston. When I say “Kiss” or “Froggy” you have no idea of which Kiss or Froggy radio station I’m referring to nor where it is located.

KDKA Covers Its First General Election

Shortly after receiving its commercial broadcast license, KDKA began planning its coverage of that year’s general election results to begin at 6pm on Tuesday, November 2nd, 1920.

Four men would climb to a little shack on the roof of one of the Westinghouse Electric’s buildings in East Pittsburgh to report on the results relayed to that shack via telephone. Leo Rosenburg delivered the results, becoming radio’s first announcer on the first licensed American radio station. You can hear a recreation by Leo of that broadcast HERE

About a thousand people tuned in to hear the broadcast and they would be some of the first people that year to learn that Warren G. Harding had beat James Cox to become the next President of the United States.

Election Night 2020

One hundred years later, election night will be quite different. People will most likely learn of the results via their smartphone, and probably not until all the votes have been counted. Due to COVID-19, we can expect that the vote counting process will take days, or even weeks, before a victor is declared.

Remember, your vote is important. Many recent elections have been decided by the thinnest of margins.

Do your civic duty and please VOTE.

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People Attract People

110One of my favorite activities each Memorial Day Weekend is to listen to WABC Rewound streamed over Rewound Radio. What makes this weekend so special is that people from all over the world are listening to the stream at the same time. It’s a coming together of people of all ages to celebrate one of the greatest radio stations America ever produced.

Why WABC Rewound is So Popular

This year, I streamed WABC Rewound driving back to Virginia after spending a couple of weeks in my home state of Massachusetts. Over 7-hours and four states, the stream via my iPhone7 pumped through my Honda Accord’s premium 7-speaker, 270-watt audio system was rich, full and continuous without buffering or interference of any kind. That all by itself is something to note. Streaming audio today is becoming seamless.

But it wasn’t the music that attracted me, though the records are the “music of my life” from my days in high school, college and as a disc jockey. No what attracts me – and everyone else that faithfully tunes in each year – are the personalities.

Herb Oscar Anderson, Bob Dayton, Dan Ingram, Ron Lundy, Bruce Morrow, Charlie Greer, Bob Lewis, Chuck Leonard, Johnny Donovan, Harry Harrison and George Michael, plus the newscasters that delivered news every hour.

We are attracted to the people. People we grew up with.

The New Yorker magazine wrote back in 1965 that listeners to WABC were part of the WABC family. We were “cousins” of Cousin Brucie. We were part of the Ingram tribe as he called us “Kemosabe.”

Mornings went “all the way with HOA” as New York’s morning Mayor Herb Oscar Anderson started our day before Harry Harrison moved from WMCA to WABC.

Contests, Features & Promotions About People

WABC invited listeners to vote for their “Principal of the Year” (16-million votes cast in 1964), mail in for a “Kissin’ Cousin Card” or a “Kemosabe Card” (drawing in 150,000 requests in a single week).

Herb Oscar singing “Hello Again” live on the radio and reading lost dog announcements, celebrating birthdays.

Each personality became a member of the family. Your family. And like a member of the family, you took them everywhere you went. To the lake, on a picnic, in your car, to wake up with or go to sleep with. They were companions and we were part of their community.

Father Peter Gregory

“Without people, there wouldn’t be a priesthood,” was the often-heard proclamation of Father Peter Gregory of St. Charles Church in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Father Peter has been the pastor of St. Charles for nearly three decades. “The church is people,” he told a reporter who interviewed him on the eve of his retirement.

I bring up Father Peter because at a time when many churches in Pittsfield have closed their doors due to a lack of followers, St. Charles is doing quite well.

It’s not the most glamorous of structures – other churches in the city I might rate more inspirational – and it’s not in the best neighborhood, no what it has had is a spiritual leader that believed in people and whom people believed in right back.

A Mount Rushmore Sized Opportunity for Radio

I love reading the weekly Mid-Week Motivator articles from a good friend and former consultant of some of the radio stations I managed, Tim Moore.

Recently Tim asked “Why is Talent Development in Neutral?”

He wrote that his life’s education seems to have been about understanding the challenges and concepts of what it takes to be a winner. It meant he would constantly be looking for character and excellence in people who hadn’t found it yet.

The irony about today’s radio, Tim says, is “glaring opportunity, constricted by the inability or lack of will on the part of many companies and their leaders to insist on the culture of better.”

Air talent goes un-coached while radio has a huge opportunity to build relationships with its listeners. Building the same kind of bond, I had with the personalities of WABC, WKBW, WTRY, WPTR, WBZ, WRKO, WDRC, WBEC, WBRK, WLS, WCFL and so many more.

Focus Groups

Over the years, I’ve been to many diary reviews and a few focus groups. What you see are the attraction of radio listeners to radio personalities.

While a particular format may be what initially attracts a listener to a radio station, it’s the radio personality that is the glue that will cement the listener’s loyalty.

Tim says” It’s the personality of a station that locks-in listeners’ interest and daily habit.” “The implications are simple, obvious, yet largely ignored: without better talent (defined as more relatable, interesting, and reciprocal people on the radio) we are treading water,” says Tim.

Who Influenced Dan Ingram, The Real Don Steele, Dale Dorman or…?

Most radio people my age grew up with the most talented and engaging radio personalities to grace the airwaves of American radio. They were our teachers. They were available for us to listen to and mentor under 24/7, 365-days a year.

In addition to them, we had program directors – many of them off-air – who coached us and inspired us to be better.

I’ve often wondered about the iconic radio personalities that did it first. Who did they learn from? How did they become the engaging, relatable, interesting personalities that attracted our ears like metal to a magnet?

And can a talent voice-tracked over multiple radio stations ever be as compelling to not just listeners but to the next generation to want to pursue radio as a career?

Again, Father Peter understood his church’s most valuable asset, it’s youth. “It’s the kids and youth who are the future of our church,” he said. “I’m now dealing with kids whose parents I had as kids.”

The Community Band

Once upon a time, every community in America had at least one town band. Most of them are long gone.

When I was managing a radio cluster in Lancaster, Pennsylvania I came to know and love the New Holland Band of New Holland, Pennsylvania.

The band was not only strong and vibrant, but performed at a level that would have made John Phillip Sousa proud. Its concerts are very well attended and it’s produced some of this country’s finest musicians, some of whom now perform as part of the President’s band.

Why did the New Holland Band not just survive but continues to thrive? It understood it’s all about people. The band’s members are made up of a diverse group of professional, semi-professional and student musicians. The oldest member of the band has been a member since 1959 and the newest member since 2016. It’s this blending of youth with experience and wisdom that keeps the New Holland Band fresh, contemporary and relevant.

Junior Achievement

It was the initiative of one of my hometown radio stations (WBEC) that convinced the Junior Achievement to create a JA Radio Company.

Junior Achievement was founded in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1919 by Theodore Vail of AT&T, Horace Moses of Strathmore Paper Company and Massachusetts Senator Winthrop Murray Crane (who’s family paper company, Crane and Company make the paper all U.S. currency is printed on).

The JA website states: “Junior Achievement is the nation’s largest organization dedicated to giving young people the knowledge and skills they need to own their economic success, plan for their future, and make smart academic and economic choices. Junior Achievement’s programs—in the core content areas of work readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy—ignite the spark in young people to experience and realize the opportunities and realities of work and life in the 21st century. Our Purpose: Junior Achievement inspires and prepares young people to succeed in a global economy.”

WBEC’s management realized that getting high school students actively involved with the radio station would engage their parents, siblings, families and friends too. Many of them who owned local businesses. It was both mentoring a new generation of radio broadcasters as well as leveraging the people attract people principle.

Human Development

As Tim Moore says “Human development is the essence of life. Weak excuses such as ‘we don’t have the time to develop talent’ are just chin boogie.”

All my radio life, I’ve invested my energies in the development of people. Many of them today are owners and managers of their own broadcast operations.

I’m also proud to have spent the past seven years of my life as a broadcast professor paying-it-forward to a new generation of broadcasters.

Radio is a people business.

It will never attract people to its product like it once did without a serious commitment to talent development.

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