I’m a semi-unreconstructed radio addict.
I remember falling asleep with my little black and white transistor radio on my ear tuned to WMCA 570 AM “The Good Guys’ or WINS 1010 with Murray the K or WABC with Cousin Brucie listening to those top 40 hits. In spring 1967 I got my first taste of blues on WNEW FM in Jay Goldman’s kitchen, and my life was never the same.
The first week of college at UW Madison I sought out WLHA, the Lakeshore dorm’s radio station. You could pick up our one watt station if your radio was plugged into the wall of your dorm room. I grabbed a morning show first semester and shortly had my tiny record collection swiped when I foolishly left it behind in a rush to class. Undaunted, I spun my vinyl on through second semester.
If you’re a radio fan now of course you can use any computerized device to pick up any radio station in the world. Why wait for your favorite song to come on when you can just type it in or subscribe to Spotify or Pandora.
Never miss a local story.
Still, there is something compelling about live, local radio, and we are awash in great local radio. The “left side of the dial” non-commercial, below 92 on the FM band has, based on what I can hear over the air, WKNC 88.1; the student station at N.C. State, WXDU 88.7, the Duke student station; 88.9 WSHA from Shaw University in Raleigh; 89.3 WXYC, the college student station at UNC; 89.7 WCPE, the independent classical station in Rolesville; WNCU 90.7 from N.C. Central in Durham; 91.5 WUNC Chapel Hill (and Durham); and 91.9 WFSS from Fayetteville State University, yes sometimes you can pick it up especially south or east of town.
Our community’s local radio is not restricted to the left side of the dial either, going way out at 97.9 is WCHL, our original community station having come along in 1953 on their original 1360 AM frequency. Ten years ago we got WCOM 103.5 community station in Carrboro, one hundred watts of wonder where I blather on during a monthly half hour about solid waste. Soon another 100 watt wonder 104.7 will launch as WHUP, a Hillsborough based community station.
All this local richness has one thing in common – an uncommon passion for the medium and longevity among its progenitors. Ron Stutts, the voice of WCHL since 1977 is probably the best known and he is also the host with the most, in demand to emcee many community events along with an intrepid reporting and news staff that covers Chapel Hill like a blanket. Even some commercials have a distinct local flavor with the wit of jeweler Berkeley Grimball or philosophizing of restaurateur Greg Overbeck.
Quirky WXYC is still led by its founder, local lawyer, long time DJ and board chair Bill Burton. In 1977 Bill got the station licensed and underway, its ongoing funding guaranteed as part of the UNC student constitution. Now he is among 150 DJs and other volunteers running the place 24 hours a day. He says, “My show is the highlight of my week.” Having DJs draw from the station library of 100,000 albums, I give it an A for eclecticism even when I must tune away. Perhaps tied for eclecticism are WXDU and WKNC; I almost always hear something I’ve never heard before and may never want to hear again.
A favorite show at our house remains WXYC’s Sunday morning’s “Orange County Special” from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., one of the station’s original programs. The radio stays stuck on that frequency through “Hell or High Water,” the subsequent 1 p.m. show featuring music from the deep and rich UNC Southern Folk Life collection. I am always blown away by the love and knowledge that young DJs demonstrate for these sounds. Some mornings I even have to call and tell them.
The 13-year host of “Orange County Special,” Bob Burtman also helped start WCOM 10 years ago, and he’s now the motive force behind the soon-to-launch WHUP. Bob told me he simply loves the medium and, like me and Bill Burton, fell asleep listening to his tinny transistor in his teenage bed. His goal with WHUP is to create a range of local programming including live in-studio performances, talk, live remotes and collaboration with other area stations. They hope to be on the air by early summer.
While not a big classical music fan, my hat is off to WCPE and director Deborah Proctor for their amazing bootstrap history, having built their own sound equipment and antenna back at N.C. State in the early ’70s and they’ve grown from two watts in 1973 to 100,000 watts now. Now they have a worldwide fan base and one might argue are the most technically advanced broadcasting on line in five formats along with eleven translator towers throughout the region, their own 1,200 foot antenna and downloads by college stations around the country. Volunteers form the backbone of their organization with only five paid staff operating the place 24/7.
Other favorite shows at our house include Jim Davis’ “Eight Track Flashback” Saturday afternoons on WNCU, the Americana and blues show Saturday mornings on WKNC from 10 a.m. to noon, DJ “Big Fat Sac’s” (yes that’s his moniker) Sunday evening WKNC show “Two Kinds of Music” (country and western, right). I get a daily morning dose of news from WUNC and tune to their array of great and informative talk shows when I’m driving. So support your local radio stations by donating, listening, volunteering and patronizing their sponsors or advertisers. It feels good, and it’s good for ya. See you on the radio.
You can reach Blair Pollock at firstname.lastname@example.org.