WPAQ radio station’s 65th birthday celebration packed the Earle Theatre Saturday night with fans, musicians, radio staffers and family of the late Ralph Epperson. Tim Chadwick, host of the Downtown Mount Airy Jam Session, remarked how rapidly the auditorium was filling up with well-wishers.
“Merry, Happy Birthday you all,” said Chadwick. “Right now we’re going to have an open jam, and I absolutely love to see this kind of response. There are many notables here tonight who played with WPAQ from the beginning.” It was an homage served between high energy old-time and bluegrass music which continued to fill the floor in front of the stage with dancers of all ages for the remainder of the evening.
“Ralph Epperson was a genius and a visionary though he wouldn’t tell you so,” began emcee Brack Llewellyn. “He was one of the most humble men I have ever met.”
The audience, performers and later the more than 25 Epperson family members present shared the opinion expressed in a six-minute documentary by Travis Frye and Sammy Cortino where WPAQ Morning Host Bob King said locally it took “a cup of coffee, bacon and eggs and WPAQ to get your morning going.”
Frye’s documentary praised the station’s goal of showcasing old-time and bluegrass music and gospel as a “Voice of the Blue Ridge” and pointed out how the station reflects many of the values and aesthetics of the area. This was topped off with many personal recollections of family and staff of Epperson and the station and a promise to continue the legacy.
WPAQ Sales Manager Mary Branch said the station’s plans for the future include expanding the Sundown Serenade feature of big band and swing music to a live broadcast monthly. She also said projects are under way for larger involvement in bus tours for the station as well as determining if the station can be accepted on the National Historic Register.
“The streets are filled with folks tonight,” said Mount Airy Mayor Deborah Cochran. “Thank you all for coming out in this cold weather. We live in an ever-changing world and it’s nice to know some things like WPAQ are constant.”
In a backstage interview, Station Manager Kelly Epperson’s wife, Jennifer Epperson, said she felt very blessed to be part of the Epperson family and WPAQ. She recalled how her 6-year-old daughter, Abby, was first taken to the station when she was 3 days old. She remembered how her daughter was kept in a bassinet at the station when she worked there. Jennifer Epperson said without the listeners and community, the station couldn’t accomplish what it has.
Sherry Boyd, a WBRF radio personality who began at WPAQ, tried to give the listeners an insider’s view of a radio station.
“You find out how much you can accomplish in three minutes in radio,” said Boyd. “Radio is a place where the personalities are as fragile and highly charged as the equipment that surrounds you. Radio is where nicknames are born. It is a small building north of town with a heart. Your job begins as work, and before you know it, you’re a part of a mission.”
Kelly Epperson spoke briefly before lifting Abby to the microphone where she thanked the crowd.
“God bless you all,” said Kelly Epperson. “Right now I feel 10 feet tall, but I’m humbled by your support.”
Reach David Broyles at email@example.com or 719-1952.