Back in 1987, I took a job with WWNR 620 AM in Beckley, WV as its operations manager. The station had been floundering for several years as numerous AM stations were and the station had one of the more unique programming combinations in our part of the state. From 12 midnight to 6:00 PM, the station ran an Adult Contemporary format; however, from 6:00 PM to midnight we were Urban Contemporary with Stew Wynne, a popular club disc-jockey hosting the night time format.
While Stew’s show was extremely popular, he could not fight against some of the inherent problems that plagued our signal. First of all, it was AM – and even though we were running AM Stereo – very few had AM Stereo receivers and electrical interference always degraded the audio. Add to this, the station had a four tower directional array that pointed the signal from a cow-patty laden field north of the city back to town.
The directional signal and the reduction in power at sundown from 1000 watts to 250 Watts made the signal difficult to receive even at the downtown studios - let alone to the thousands of homes in the area. Adding insult to injury, the copper in the antennae ground system was an occasional target of scrap metal thieves. When this occurred, it destroyed the ground wave signal that is necessary for a strong amplitude modulated radio signal.
While Stew did well at nights, it never translated into much income for the station. In addition, the bifurcation of formats caused the station to be unable to carry an audience from one format to the next – and hence overnight and mornings suffered the greatest in the ratings.
Shortly after I arrived, Stew’s tenure with the station was drawing to a close as he was on a kidney transplant list. Following one unsuccessful transplant, he needed a new kidney and he went back on the waiting list. Stew never came back to work and following his release from the hospital, he concentrated on his club DJ business. He lived nearly 19 years following the second transplant.
Since Stew had left the station, his audience followed suit. While others, notably Martin Staunton (yes – that Martin Staunton), kept the format alive for a while, it began to flounder as much as our AC format during the day. I made the suggestion that we fill a need in the market by switching the entire format to oldies. This was a successful move for the station as it filled a niche in the market. Gone was the station’s AC reporting status and we moved into another era.
During the brief time I was programming the AC portion of the station (Stew did his own programming), we got on the mailing list for Windham Hill Records – first with LPs and later with CDs. We never played any of these recordings anyway and since they were destined to the trash heap, I procured all that came into the station. At the time, I was getting into the music of George Winston, Michael Hedges, Mark Isham, Mike Marshall, Alex de Grassi, Shadowfax and others that were being funneled my way thanks to the record company.
One of the groups that was signed to the label was an eclectic new age band called Nightnoise. The band was heavily influenced by Celtic music and I loved their sound. I hadn’t thought about them in ages, but a couple of weekends ago, I heard one of their recordings on Fiona Ritchie’s NPR show, The Thistle and Shamrock. While I couldn’t secure the song she featured, our traditional Tuesday selection is a Celtic inspired tune entitled “Night in That Land.”