Local radio station WPAQ first hit the airwaves on Feb. 2, 1948. Nearly 70 years later, it’s still going strong — which will be evidenced by an annual celebration this Saturday.
The station specializing in traditional mountain music will mark the occasion of its 69th birthday in a manner true to its roots, with a free concert at the Historic Earle Theatre and Old-Time Music Heritage Hall in downtown Mount Airy.
WPAQ’s annual birthday celebration has proven to be a much-anticipated event, and organizers have made a great effort to keep that going this Saturday.
Beginning at 6 p.m., this year’s anniversary concert — presented in partnership with the Surry Arts Council — will feature live performances from a lineup that reads like a who’s who list of bluegrass and old-time music groups.
Included will be The Zephyr Lightning Bolts, Rich in Tradition, Mickey Galyean and Cullen’s Bridge, The Slate Mountain Ramblers, The Country Boys and The Nunn Brothers.
The evening’s entertainment is being provided to the public for free through partnerships with area businesses, as a celebration of WPAQ’s 69 years in the radio business.
Musicians, fans credited
Although the radio station, and its longevity, will be in the spotlight Saturday, WPAQ owner Kelly Epperson — son of its late founder Ralph Epperson — credited legions of musicians and fans for its success.
“It is just a real feel-good situation,” Epperson said. “I can’t thank the listeners and the musicians enough — we’ve made it this far because of them and their support.”
The present station owner added that “they’ve gone out of their way to make sure WPAQ is continuing and furthering the dream of my father, Ralph Epperson,” who launched WPAQ.
Doors will open at 6 p.m. Saturday and organizers encourage music fans to come early to get good seats for the concert expected to wrap up around 10 p.m.
Not only will the in-house audience be treated to the entertainment, it will be joined by listeners from around the world due to plans for broadcasting the concert live on the air, at 740 AM on the radio dial, and online with the help of many local business partners.
“Attendees at Saturday night’s WPAQ 69th Birthday Celebration event can expect a night full of wonderful traditional music and opportunities to flatfoot dance, and the event is 100-percent family-friendly,” an organizer promised.
Though many changes in technology and the musical tastes of the public have occurred since 1948, WPAQ has remained viable using the same format with which it began.
WPAQ, Mount Airy’s first radio station, was founded by the late Ralph Epperson, a native of Patrick County, Virginia, using bricks and locally crafted beams.
Epperson, who died in 2006, sought to provide a “stage” for local musicians and promoting the area’s talent.
From its earliest days, live music has been a key part of WPAQ’s programming, mirroring a desire for the radio listening audience to see the actual performances.
Programs such as the “Merry Go Round,” which was launched in 1948 and still airs today — second only to the Grand Ole Opry as the nation’s longest-running live radio show — continues to showcase local and regional traditional musical acts. The “Merry Go Round” is broadcast each Saturday from the Earle Theatre.
Through such efforts, the radio station long known as the “Voice of the Blue Ridge” remains viable in 2017 in an era of social and digital media, the Internet and IHeartRadio.
It has been able to extend that traditional musical programming reach to new audiences outside the local listening area through daily live streaming over the Internet at www.wpaq740.com.
Listeners can hear vintage old-time and bluegrass music as well as contemporary hits from national acts in the traditional music genre, local news, weather and announcements of snow closures or lost pets.
WPAQ is not only known for its music, but also as the Bears Radio Network, with the station broadcasting local sports featuring Mount Airy High School basketball, baseball and football, both home and away games.
And while Ralph Epperson is no longer around, his son believes he’d appreciate what is occurring with the radio station today.
“I know he would be pleased,” Kelly Epperson said Tuesday.
“He’d definitely have a grin on his face.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.