Tag Archives: WSM

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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We Are the Choices We Make

WSM(15)From my earliest days, I knew what I wanted to do in life. Drive a car, fly a plane and be a disc jockey.

I know, they don’t seem like big hairy audacious life goals, but to an eight year old, they were.

Disc Jockey

You might be surprised to learn that the goal of becoming a professional disc jockey on an AM radio station came first. I actually had to have my mom drive me to the radio station and pick me up after my shift and I’m sure it was a kick for both of my parents to hear their youngest son on the radio.

My mother was a radio listener. My father never was.

Driver’s License

By the time I got my driver’s license and was graduating from high school, my radio work had earned me enough money to buy my first car and head off to college.

My course of study in college was in physics and education. I was on the path to becoming a teacher. My parents didn’t feel that becoming a full-time disc jockey was a career with any future and wanted me to have a college degree and a career I could fall back on.

While pursuing my undergraduate degree, I worked to get an FCC license for an FM radio station for my college and became the first general manager of WJJW 91.1FM. Between classes I DJ’d on my college radio station, and on weekends, holidays and summers, earned money working in professional radio.

I never had a student loan and between my radio work and playing a trombone in professional marching and concert bands, I not only paid for my college education but saved some money too.

1968 was when minimum wage paid the most money per hour in the history of the minimum wage law in America. You can’t do what I did on minimum wage today.

Airborne

Flying a plane wouldn’t happen until 17-years later. I was promoted to general manager of WIIN-AM/WFPG-FM in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The previous general manager had worked out a trade deal with our local airlines, which also provided our news/talk AM planeradio station with local traffic reports during beach season. When I took over the job, everything was already in place for flying lessons and I took advantage of the arrangement and learned to fly.

Soloing a plane over the South Jersey Shore Beaches in the summer time on the weekends was such a thrill.

Teaching

IMG_3351Whenever people would ask me what I wanted to do next with my life, my answer was always the same, teach. Yes, I wanted to teach at a college or university the very profession that I had spent my entire working life doing, radio.

When Clear Channel was doing major RIFs (Reduction In Force) in 2009, I one day found myself with a surprise visit from my Regional Vice President. For the past year, I had spent being told who I needed to terminate next in my radio stations and I knew this time it was me. It was the worst year in radio I ever had.

The good news was, I saw in Radio Ink that Western Kentucky University was looking for a broadcast professor to teach sales, management, history and other radio/media courses. The position perfectly described my background and because of my two college degrees, both in education, I knew I had found the final path of my professional life.

I moved to Kentucky. Helped Dan Vallie to create the KBA/WKU Radio Talent Institute and over the course of seven years did research on the future of radio, along with creating this very blog, that I’ve been writing weekly for over five years.

Disc Jockey, Second Act

Before retiring from the university, Joe Limardi, then operations manager for WSM 650AM in Nashville, invited me to come to Music City and do a radio shift on The Air IMG_2368Castle of the South. Joe Limardi had been a guest professional broadcaster in my Capstone Class at WKU and it was during his lectures with my students that I learned that Joe had grown up listening to me on the radio back in our hometown of Pittsfield, Massachusetts on WBEC 1420AM. Joe always thought of me as a disc jockey and little did I know I inspired him to pursue a radio career.

IMG_2352I had not been behind the mic on a radio station in 35-years. I had a 10-minute lesson in how to run the control board from Joe and then was off on my own to do the next four hours on The Legend WSM.

Soloing on WSM that day was a thrill, one I had not had since my flight instructor got out of the plane one day and said, “Take it around by yourself.”

But my disc jockey second act didn’t end that day, I continue to do a VT midday shift (EST) on WMEX-LP out of Rochester, NH and heard worldwide on TuneIn Radio.

One thing is clear, we are the choices we make.

Don’t let anyone tell you, you can’t do it.

 

 

 

 

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AM/FM or just FM?

HD FM Radio ReceiverThere’s something that’s been troubling me for some time. It’s the radio industry’s habit of reporting radio listening results by calling it “AM/FM” versus what it really is, virtually all FM radio listening.

Nieman Lab

Who could not be buoyed by this headline from Nieman Lab: “AM/FM radio holds strong for American listeners.”

But is it true?

When I read the ratings reports from both PPM and diary markets, I see an FM world.

Don’t get me wrong, I grew up on AM radio and recognize that almost every market has a heritage AM radio station that still garners a big audience. I’m not blind to the wonderful ratings of 1010 WINS in New York City for example.

But there are only 26 all-news terrestrial radio stations left in America according to Nieman. This popular format is missing from the majority of America’s radio markets.

WTOP

WTOP logoWTOP was built on AM radio. It moved its entire operation over to the FM band and grew its audience, revenues and lowered its listener demographic. People who never heard this radio station on its AM dial position were suddenly newly minted fans of their all news format.

The FCC Saves AM Radio

The FCC’s mission to save AM radio is to give these radio stations an FM dial position using a translator. What are we really saving? The AM band or a particular format that a radio operator created on the AM band and now, to survive, needs to move it, like WTOP, to the FM side of the dial.

WIP

WIP logoFrom my blogging, I get lots of feedback about a variety of things concerning broadcasting. One reader wrote to me about his father, a sports fan, who turned on WIP-FM to hear the latest chatter. WIP-FM was broadcasting a game of no interest to his father, so his son said to him, why don’t you turn on WIP AM610. Sadly, this person wrote the audio was unlistenable. He wrote: “You’d think the FCC would mandate that AM have standards for audio quality in receivers.”

WSM

WSM logoWhen I was living in Bowling Green, Kentucky, I couldn’t receive 650AM WSM in my office, even though my office looked south and my antenna was able to enjoy a full wall of windows. The noise floor both inside my university office as well as around town while driving in my car made the station unlistenable. WSM was once listened to all the way to Louisville in northern Kentucky. Instead, I downloaded WSM’s app and could enjoy the radio station in crystal clear stereo. (I see WSM has stopped subscribing to Nashville Nielsen Audio ratings.)

BBC

BBC logoThe British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) did a review of the range of services it offered on the AM band (called medium wave across the pond) and it included a financial review of all its services too. They concluded the ROI (return on investment) in AM was not there and announced they would be turning off some 13-AM radio stations in January 2018 according to Radio Business Reports.

WHVO

WHVO logoThere’s a great radio operator in Cadiz, Kentucky by the name of Beth Mann. WHVO is her AM radio station at 1480, but if you go on her website, you won’t find any mention of this station being on the AM radio dial. It’s promoted as WHVO 96.5 & 100.9 FM.

Bottom Line

It’s time to face the fact that AM radio needs to be re-deployed for a new service. Current radio station owners should be given a viable FM dial position that replaces their AM service area, and doesn’t require multiple translators to attempt to accomplish this task. (Note: WHVO needs two translators to deliver the signal of its AM 1480.)

It’s time to allow those same dedicated radio broadcasters to sell off their expensive AM tower sites and turn off their AM stations that consume electrical power with no real ROI.

Ecclesiastes 3

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven…”

AM radio’s time has come and gone as the mass communication delivery system it was from the 1920s to the 1970s, much as radio replaced vaudeville.

To put things in perspective, at a time in America’s radio history when the number of FM signals equaled the number of AM signals on the air, 75% of all radio listening was to FM. So, you can only imagine what it’s like today for AM radio listening when FM signals outnumber AM signals by four and a half times in the USA. (FCC BROADCAST STATION TOTALS AS OF JUNE 30, 2018:  4,633 AM signals / 20,758 FM signals)

That’s why I believe we do no service in promoting radio as “AM/FM” and not being honest about where virtually all of the radio listening is really taking place.

Sadly, AM radio is to broadcasting as coal is to power generation. It was the perfect solution in its day.

 

 

 

 

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Celebrating A Reunion

PHS 45th Reunion InviteIt was 45 years ago that I graduated from high school.  It’s really hard to believe that much time has passed, but this weekend I’m back in my hometown of Pittsfield, Massachusetts – in the “Heart of the Berkshires” – celebrating that teenage milestone.

This invitation has been on my refrigerator for months.  The anticipation has been building steadily and now it’s almost over.

Friday night we all went to the wonderfully restored Colonial Theater to see Mary Poppins.  Saturday night was our big reunion dinner/dance.  This morning we will meet one more time for Sunday brunch before we depart, all hoping we’ll be able to make it to the 50th reunion in 2020.

2020 is the year that commercial RADIO will become 100 years old.DT WBEC (1970s)  I was fortunate to start in radio back in 1967 while just starting high school.  I earned my 3rd class Radio Telephone FCC Operators License in February 1968 allowing me to professionally start working in radio shortly thereafter.  Radio would help me pay for my college education; bachelors and masters degrees.

My first radio station was WBEC – AM1420 in Pittsfield.

I had visions of being a big time disc jockey working at one of the major market 50,000-watt clear channel signal radio stations like WBZ in Boston or WLS in Chicago or WABC in New York.

But that never happened.  Instead I would move into radio sales and very quickly into radio station management.  It is in this senior management position that I would spend over thirty years of my radio life.

WSM(15)But never give up on your dreams.  Because when I began teaching at Western Kentucky University’s School of Journalism & Broadcasting, I invited radio & TV professionals into my capstone class.  One of those professionals, the operations manager & program director of Nashville’s legendary 650AM – WSM invited me to be a guest disc jockey on this 50,000-watt clear channel signal radio station.

Those high school dreams really can come true!

For four hours on Sunday, July 13, 2014 I was in the air chair doing “The Dick Taylor Show” on this iconic radio institution.

This weekend we all remembered the good times, like the price of a gallon of gas (35-cents) or the price of a 1st class postage stamp (6-cents).  But 1970 was also the year that the Beatles broke up and four students were slain by National Guardsmen at Kent State University in Ohio.

The movies featured: M*A*S*H, Patton, Love Story and Airport.PHS 40th Reunion Picture

The record of the year was “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” by the 5th Dimension.  The song of the year was “Games People Play” by Joe South and the album of the year was the self-titled album by Blood, Sweat & Tears.

Five years ago, we all stepped out of the dinner/dance hall for a group photo.  We looked FABULOUS!

We’re Baby Boomers.  A generation that was so big that the city had to handle our class size over three high schools – Pittsfield High, Taconic High and St. Joseph’s High.

We may have been separate back then and even competitive, but today we celebrate as one big high school class.

We’re the high school Class of 1970.

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