That’s a long time, by most any standard, and certainly is a rather lengthy time for a small business to be alive, vibrant, and successful. Particularly in today’s world, when technology changes seemingly every day, and trends mean what is hot today is forgotten in six months.
Yet, that’s exactly how long WPAQ has been operating, taking the music of its people and culture to the world.
Sure, its beginnings might be considered humble — founder Ralph Epperson convinced a couple of relatives to help him lay the block for the building, while simultaneously getting the necessary federal permits and licenses, so that the station was ready to sign on, sending its signal out over the airwaves on Feb. 2, 1948.
But the station has become a legend in the music industry, in many ways ground central for bluegrass and old time music. To be certain, that was no doubt helped by that fact that Surry County and the surrounding communities have produced some of the early giants of the industry, musicians who have attracted younger performers from all around the world, coming here to learn from the old masters of the trade.
Then again, it may be because of WPAQ’s presence that Surry County has maintained its place as the one of the hotbeds of blue grass and old time music.
Over the decades blue grass and old time music struggled as a genre, at least commercially. Country became big. Rock held a stranglehold on the airwaves. Modern country became bigger. Alternative rock, contemporary Christian music, pop, jazz…the list of various forms of music that have come in and out of vogue could be a mile long, and each one sent radio stations scrambling, changing their formats chasing the hot, trendy money.
Through it all, Epperson remained true to his home town’s musical heritage, focusing on blue grass and old time music — sprinkled with some local preaching, area sports coverage, and the tradition of soothing big-band music each evening as the day drew to a close.
There were times that were tough, no doubt periods when Epperson and his son, Kelly, wondered if it was time to change, to go with a different format to keep the bills up to date and the staff paid.
Despite what must have been some strong temptations to make changes, the Epperson family kept their focus on that original dream, playing and preserving the local blue grass and old time music.
Now the station is heard round the world, thanks to live streaming; the staff has some of the best-known and well-respected DJs in the industry; and listeners can tune in and hear the music that helped define this community, just as their parents and grandparents, and maybe even their great-grandparents, did.
Yesterday WPAQ celebrated its 69th anniversary with a big birthday bash downtown at the Earle Theatre. We hoped you got to attend, or at least caught some of it being broadcast or streamed online.
If not, take a few moments this week to listen to the station, even if that music isn’t normally your cup of tea, and join us in sending birthday wishes to a true icon of Mount Airy and the music industry. We hope to be writing stories about the station’s annual birthday event for another 69 years.