By John Peters
April 3, 2014
On Saturday the community will have an opportunity to honor two people at one event.
At 2 p.m. the documentary “Broadcast — A Man and His Dream” will be shown at the Earle Theatre in downtown Mount Airy.
The film, which is nearly an hour long, is a look at the late Ralph Epperson, founder and long-time owner of WPAQ, and his lifelong pursuit of a dream to support and preserve the blue grass and old time mountain music that came from area musicians — some of the most influential musicians in the genre.
The director, Jordan Nance, has been working on the project for years, and was even able to include clips from an interview he did with Epperson before his death in 2006.
The documentary takes a close-up look at Epperson’s story, from the days when he was a young man dreaming of building and owning a radio station, to the early days of making that dream come true with the 1948 debut of WPAQ, and then his efforts to serve both the Surry County community and the larger musical world through his promotion of the music he loved.
Much of Epperson’s story is well-known, how he featured local musicians on the station — some of whom went on to become major stars in the musical genre — in an effort to grow and preserve that music, to become known as the Voice of the Blue Ridge.
Even today, eight years after his death, with the station under the ownership and management of his son, Kelly Epperson, WPAQ is known throughout the bluegrass and old time musical world as THE radio station, the one place where that music was revered even during a period when the rest of the world seemed to forget about it.
What makes Saturday special, in addition to the fact that the elder Epperson’s birthday is April 5, is who produced the documentary. Nance, 30, became enamored with Epperson and his story when Nance was a young man, and set out to make the documentary that will be featured Saturday.
Nance was born with a condition known as spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, which makes doing even routine daily chores a monumental task. He gets around with the help of a wheelchair and communicates using a laptop computer, and relies on others to help with many daily tasks.
Yet he took on the project of developing the documentary because he loved the subject matter and wanted to see that dream to fruition.
His efforts, in some ways, mirror those of Epperson, who grew up on a tobacco farm in the days when understanding how radio worked was as foreign to most as quantum physics is to the general populace today.
Yet both men pursued their dreams with great determination, and it would be fitting for a standing-room only crowd to turn out Saturday to honor the efforts of both.
Note: While the film begins at 2 p.m., a jam session involving area musicians is set to begin at 1:30 p.m., followed by Mount Airy Mayor Deborah Cochran issuing a proclamation named Saturday as Ralph Epperson day.