Mount Airy High School has no football game Friday night, due to a bye week. But Bears gridiron action will still be broadcast as usual — a game from 70 years ago.
Both local radio stations, WPAQ and WSYD, will air the 1948 state championship clash between Mount Airy and Laurinburg High, which also can be accessed via their Internet sites, starting Friday at 7:30 p.m.
“It’s going to be awesome,” the stations’ owner, Kelly Epperson, said of the re-airing of that game first broadcast live by WPAQ during the first year of its existence, “because this hasn’t been heard in 70 years.”
A method of transferring a recording of the game from an archaic format to one that would allow it to be re-aired was not identified until this week.
The timing of the special presentation is appropriate, not only since the 2018 Bears team has an open date on the schedule this week, but Mount Airy also is celebrating Mayberry Days — a period when nostalgia reigns.
“What a time to bring a 70-year-old football game back to life,” Epperson said of being able to return to that long-ago contest. “I feel like we’ve fallen into a time warp.”
Unlike today’s state championship games that are played on neutral university sites across North Carolina, the 1948 title contest was held on Reddick Field here. It was located behind the present site of the Mount Airy Municipal Building on South Main Street where a former city high school once stood.
Johnie Joyce, then WPAQ’s news and sports director, was the lone announcer for the game.
Technology gap bridged
The reason why the 1948 state championship match up has not been heard since first broadcast that year is the result of a combination of factors, starting with recordings of the game being preserved using an antiquated method. It’s one that predates tape and other sound mediums, meaning that it couldn’t be played back using the modern equipment with which most people are familiar.
Epperson explained that the football game broadcast was copied from a wire recorder onto something called aluminum lacquer audio discs. “It’s a kind of record where you start inside and go out,” he said of the turntable arm. Sounds were recorded on both sides of such records, which were played at a speed of 33 and one-third.
About 20 of the discs were found under a desk in the office of WPAQ founder Ralph Epperson, Kelly’s father, who died in 2006.
“Some of the people at the radio station just kept encouraging me to use them,” Kelly Epperson said, but the question was how to transfer the old discs to a format where the recordings could be listened to, or broadcast. He just never thought it could be done.
However, Ivy Sheppard, a local musician and vintage record collector, was able to bridge the gap using some old equipment she owns — meshing modern recording and playback technology with that of the 1940s.
This eventually involved transferring material from the audio discs to a thumb drive, a digital storage device, and then onto CDs (compact discs).
“It sounds really good,” Epperson said Tuesday afternoon after an experiment to transfer the game to the CDs proved successful and he was able to listen to the historic event.
There’s a little “popping” here and there, but otherwise the quality is fantastic, he said of the game recording that lasts two hours and 10 minutes. “We’ve got a treasure here,” Epperson said.
Along with the football action, the playing of the national anthem by the Mount Airy High School Marching Band is clearly audible, and Joyce, the announcer, makes reference to legendary Bears coach Wallace Shelton’s presence on the field. Other names familiar to longtime football fans, including Charlie Atkins, also are mentioned on the recording.
“It is really cool … I’ve got goosebumps over it,” Epperson said.
Friday night’s re-broadcast will have a limited commercial presence compared to regular Bears radio coverage, he said.
On their first offensive possession of the 1948 game, Mount Airy attempted a long pass to try to catch Laurinburg off guard, which was unsuccessful.
The nostalgic recording also boasts something that can be considered a departure from recent NFL games plagued by a rash of roughing-the-passer penalties.
Epperson said the 1948 game was cleanly played, based on what he had listened to so far.
“I haven’t heard a penalty yet.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.