Community radio: An essential service with rock and country music rolled in

Without community radio, small towns can lose vital information links. Photo: Wikipedia

NORTHERN NECK, Va., October 24, 2013 — We all have listened to major radio station formats brought to us by large corporations with cookie cutter formats such as “The Morning Zoo,” which ran ad nauseam across the nation some years back. With back-to-back-to-back commercials, traffic reports and often hosted by so-called ‘shock jocks’ who run amuck in poor taste, homogenized radio today seems the same in every city.

Local relief comes in the form of hot adult contemporary WRAR 105.5 FM and its sister station country WNNT 107.5 FM located in Tappahannock, Virginia. Both serve the entire Northern Neck area of the commonwealth.

Small communities still need radio stations like these as folks tune in for weather that affects their livelihood and lifestyle, crops and events. Emergencies requiring updated information are served up as well, along with local events and happenings that are central to a smaller community.

Having spent a day observing how station WRAR operates, it was very interesting for this writer to see how computerized the station’s system is and how announcers must make split second decisions to keep the music flowing with advertisements, radio frequency checks, weather, obituary news, community events and reports dropped in from larger news sources— in this case ABC News—that must be perfectly synchronized. “Dead air” is a criminal offense in this business.

ABC News feeds arrive timed right down to the second, and the air must be clear for the news yet reamain filled up until that exact second. This requires a minute by minute arranging and re-arranging of material, including the length of songs, commercial breaks and other broadcasting essentials. Songs, time and all kinds of data are identified on what appears to be a Boeing 757 cockpit. It’s situated directly in front of Rich Morgan, President of Real Media Inc., owner of both stations.

Local news is delivered by Tom Davis who is also the announcer/DJ at their sister station WNNT 107.5 FM right across the hall. Davis can be seen walking back and forth as he times his show with the news at WRAR. This too, is a juggling act.


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Duly noted with some amazement was the absence of traffic reports. That’s because traffic is light to nonexistent and therefore of little concern here. But local obituary reports are a genuine concern, as smaller town folk know one another and virtually every death is a significant milestone.

A Tale of Two Channels

6,000 watt WRAR-FM first emerged on the airwaves in 1971 as a sister station to WRAR-AM, soon owned by Danny and brother Lin Wadsworth. They, in turn, declined offers from larger media companies to sell out, sold the stations instead to those who were actually operating them at the time.

This type of employee/owner trust and loyalty is rare today and likely only remains in smaller communities as the Wadsworth brothers also financed the sale instead of what most folks would do today: cut and run.


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The Wadsworths wished to maintain the integrity of their product and felt that current owner Morgan et. al. were most likely to fulfill the Wadsworths’ original objectives.

And that’s how WRAR ended up being owned by Rich Morgan, who lives the business along with Terry Brooks, Tom Davis and Jon Stallard. Morgan started in 1977 and is the senior employee/owner at the station. Morgan hosts the a.m. show and works every facet of the business even after he signs off.

Morgan’s morning sidekick is Betty “Boop” Osburn, who co-hosts Morgan’s show and helps with remote broadcasting (away from the station itself) and air time sales.

Broadcasting is second nature to Morgan as his ease behind the microphone is readily apparent. Stallard and Brooks share broadcasting duties as well, mostly in the afternons and evenings.

Air time salesman Bill Martin, office manager Donna O’Bier and chief engineer Frank Miner are significant members of the team since the station no longer relies on syndicated broadcasting.

WRAR’s sister station, WNNT, which Real Media also acquired, once had a sister AM station dating from the 1950’s. But the AM station signed off in 2000 leaving to WNNT-FM the country broadcast known far and wide as “River Country.”

Serving the Northern Neck community

The Northern Neck area is known all over the Eastern Seaboard for fishing, commercial crabbing, and oysters. In fact, the largest fish oil company in the USA is located here along with one of the largest seafood wholesalers. With this is mind, weather, tide and sunrise/sunset information is vital and is reported frequently by the twin stations helping watermen to make the daily decisions crucial to the success of their businesses.

The Northern Neck is also a farming community which is equally reliant upon such reports.

As the holidays approach, Morgan and company dish out a host of local related activities including a program called “Christmas Wishes,” which began in 1986 and helps less fortunate children and their families get what they need to enjoy a happy holiday. Donation of toys, stocking stuffers, candy, coats, batteries and many other items are collected from community members for this drive.

Community broadcasting is essential for community survival as community members rely on these stations and the stations rely on community members. 

Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based writer and psychotherapist

 


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