History of WFLO
(Article written in 1977)
Thirty years ago today, August 12, 1947, WFLO in Farmville became a radio station. For several months, it had been just an assembly of wires, a tower, studios and technical equipment. Nevertheless, on this date 30 years ago, the Federal Communications Commission in Washington sent a telegram to the station giving it authority to commence broadcasting. At that time, the station’s studios were located on west Third Street in Farmville, and its transmitter located on the Cumberland Road about a mile and a half away in a small building on state highway 45. If you’ve wondered how it all got started in the first place, then here’s the answer.
In the late 1940’s the federal government decided to do something about the need for additional small town radio stations in the United States. Before that time, a handful of large high powered radio stations had been allowed exclusive use of all available frequencies, and no space was left on the dial for smaller local stations. The Communications Act of 1934 was responsible for this, but things had now changed. The Act was amended in the late 1940’s to allow daytime radio stations to come into being, to operate on the same frequencies heretofore reserved for the “big boys”, but this was for daylight hours only. AM radio waves travel farther at night. The day timers would have to sign off at night to avoid interference with the big fellows. That’s where WFLO and several hundred other stations suddenly had their chance. Mrs. Carla Keys of Johnson City, Tennessee, who had widespread business interests, had an interest in building a station. She was advised that Farmville, Virginia would be a good place to do it. And so it happened; an application was filed, the necessary paperwork and all taken care of, personnel contacted, engineers, announcers, writers, sales staff, clerical workers, land was leased, building leased, equipment purchased, and so on it went. And on this date, 30 years ago, the big switch was thrown and FLO was on the air. Only one person on the present staff was there at the time; O.C. Covington, WFLO engineer for 30 years, is the only staff member who remained throughout the three decades. I was a “johnny come lately”, joining the station in 1950, becoming manager in 1953. There had been three other managers earlier, including the original the late Harold Gray, an interim manager in 1948 Jimmy Wilson from Johnson City, Tennessee (no relation by the way), and the popular Chuck Maillet who was my boss until 1953. Chuck now operates his own station in Portsmouth, Ohio.
Under the continuing ownership of Mrs. Carla Keys, WFLO slowly grew up. By the time she was nearly ten years old in 1956, it had become time to construct a new studio building on the Cumberland Road and consolidate studios and transmitter under one roof. Since the company operated as Colonial Broadcasting Company, it seemed logical to follow a colonial style in a new building. Thus the tall columns and the colonial style porch on the building that is serving today as studios, office and transmitter location.
By 1960, it was becoming evident that FM, frequency modulation, would be helpful to the station. Once again, there would be the flurry of paperwork for the FCC license, the purchasing of equipment, not on so grand a scale as the original application, but steps that were still necessary. And in that year, 1960, WFLO-FM was born at 95.7 with a power of 6,300 watts effective radiated power. That means FM coverage about equal to WFLO-AM working out effectively for maybe 40 -50 miles. The FM operation could sign on early in the morning…5 am is the present daily starting time… it could stay on later at night, all night if desired…sign off is 10 pm, except 11 pm on Saturday, present schedule. Different music and other different programs could be heard on FM…In effect, a completely new station was created. Next came mobile units…2 way radios, one mounted in a four-wheel drive vehicle that was supposed to be able to go most anywhere to give on the spot news instantly, fires, accidents, interviews. Today there are three mobile units in operation.
In 1962, WFLO became the local weather recording station, succeeding the late E.F. Striplin who had kept daily weather records for the area since 1930. Today the station has teletype service directly from the National Weather Service to bring up to the minute information to the air as rapidly as possible.
For nearly thirty years, WFLO has broadcast daily programs for local VPI EXTENTION Agents, alternating from Appomattox, Buckingham, Charlotte, Cumberland and Prince Edward Counties. These programs continue today. Morning Devotions is another original program continuing today after 3 decades. News programs continue to be extremely important, and WFLO news is followed far and wide throughout this area as one of our most important features.
Undoubtedly, the most important asset to the station is its personnel; and here we truly cannot say enough. After Mrs. Keys death in 1972, the ownership of the station went to a small corporation composed of some of the senior employees. The corporation continued the name Colonial Broadcasting Company, and added Incorporated. And at this point, we list our most important assets by name and length of service: O.C. Covington, engineer, 30 years…John Wilson, 27 years…Al Smith, program and sports director, 24 years…Henry Fulcher, country music, 21 years. Several whose length of staff service range from 15 to 20 years: Ann McGahey, continuity…T.J. Fulcher, sales…Gene Eike, assistant program director and announcer. Ten years or more: Larry LeSueur, announcer and sales…Josephine Newcomb, bookkeeping. A little less than 10 years: Francis Wood, news…Lucille Campbell, traffic. And part-timers whose combined service average nearly ten years: announcers David Layne, Bob Woodburn and night man Tommy Jenkins…plus our most recent assistant, Julie Ryan, part-time bookkeeping. These are the “lifeblood” of the station. Otherwise WFLO AM and FM would be just another assembly of building, studio, transmitter, offices, equipment, and etcetera. However, these are not just “anybody” employees. They’re dedicated and loyal people, solid citizens in the community, each involved in community activities and ready and willing to help do what is necessary for the good of the station and the community. We salute this staff today with pride and pleasure.
That is FLO in a nutshell today…30 years old now. WFLO is people serving people. With the Lord’s blessing, may this service continue always in a constant effort to meet the needs and interests of our listeners.
The decades of the eighties and nineties recorded significant changes at WFLO concerning personnel and growth. Death claimed O.C. Covington, Al Smith, Larry Leseur, Gene Eike and Tommy Jenkins. T.J. Fulcher jr. retired as sales manager and Josephine Newcomb, bookkeeper, also retired. By 1990, Gene Eike was general manager, as John Wilson had accepted semi-retirement. Gene’s term in management lasted ten years until he was fatally stricken with cancer in 1999 and John Wilson returned to management. Francis Wood moved from program director to station manager and eventually to general manager in 2001, as John Wilson again chose semi-retirement. Polly Davis succeeded T.J. Fulcher as sales manager and Pat Wilkerson became bookkeeper and finance officer.
WFLO FM increased power to 40,000 watts (erp) in the ’80s and began full time broadcasting, going to a syndicated program service by satellite at night. In 1995, the WFLO parent company (Colonial Broadcasting Company Incorporated) purchased the assets of WSVS in Crewe and became licensee/owner of the former major competitor of WFLO. Gene Eike served as manager and engineer for both stations.
Tragedy struck WFLO in the spring of 1996 when a severe storm destroyed the station tower, bringing it down completely and consequently WFLO AM and FM were off the air for a time. However, a makeshift AM antenna was put into service within a few days to put Am back on the air at considerably reduced signal strength. The rebuilding of WFLO FM was another story, but eventually the tower which supports both AM and FM was rebuilt with an additional 150 feet added to the tower height. In addition, FM power was increased to 50,000 watts. The complete rebuilding process took nearly a full year before everything was finalized at a cost of over $100,000.00. The loss was partially covered by insurance.
The tower rebuilding process was a story in itself and was successful largely due to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of Gene Eike who drew important advice and guidance from some of the broadcast industry’s experts in engineering and construction. Gene had made previous contact with many of these specialists through the Virginia Association of Broadcasters when he served as president of that organization several years earlier.
WFLO FM “emerged from the ashes” of tower destruction with a prestigious 500-foot tower and an operating power of 50,000 watts, thus becoming one of central Virginia’s most powerful and widely heard radio stations. This was a landmark accomplishment for Gene and for those who worked with him.
WFLO’s strength today still rests with its outstanding staff. Special mention should be made here of Henry Fulcher whose tour of duty at WFLO began in the mid 1950’s and continues today as one of the most popular figures in the area of country music in Virginia. His love for country music, his quick wit and natural ability to entertain, captured the hearts of listeners from the beginning and today. Henry continues to delight his loyal audience of morning radio listeners. He is also a part owner in Colonial Broadcasting Company Incorporated and WFLO Real Estate.
The staff has been greatly strengthened by program staffers like Chris Wood, who is the station program director; by people like Elliott Irving, news director; Chris Brochon, traffic and production engineer; Bill McKay, on air announcer and bluegrass show host. Weekenders help balance the staff; William Lynn, Sunday morning instrumental music, Novey Wiley and Wendy Jones, Sunday morning gospel program, Janet Stuart and Drew Newton, afternoon, night, and weekend announcers. Cannon Watson, former UNC football player, who covers Hampden-Sydney football, has enhanced sports coverage and basketball broadcasts. Winning Queensbury and his brother, Scott host the WFLO high school football games.
Today, WFLO continues its leadership in the community as a full service radio station, with the highest audience ratings in the area despite the fact that several other stations have come on the air in recent years in Farmville and the vicinity. The station has consistently been a major factor in the lives and activities of south central Virginians. As a local minister stated on Morning Devotions recently, “Without WFLO, things would be vastly different in these counties. This station is a great asset.”
WFLO’s transition into the 21st Century was both challenging and historic. Many of the core employees have remained while some have gone. Pat Wilkerson retired from the position of Bookkeeper and Finance Director in 2004 after nearly twenty years with Colonial Broadcasting. She has since passed away. Chris Wood filled this vacancy in addition to her announcing and Program Director chores. Billy McKay (Bluegrass Billy) came on board as an announcer in the summer of 2000 and remained with the station until he left to pursue other employment opportunities in early 2008. Our hearts were broken in July of 2010 when we lost longtime News Director and Swingin’ Years host, Elliott Irving, to a fatal heart attack. Elliott was much loved by the listening community and his place at WFLO will be long remembered. Sales representative, Karen Franklin, who had joined the sales team in early 2001 left for other career opportunities in late 2011. A former WFLO account executive, David Jones, returned to the sales force in late 2011. Radio veteran, Jason Glenn, joined the WFLO staff in 2010 as office assistance/announcer and was joined soon after by Longwood University graduate, Jordan Miles, who began his career as News Reporter at our station. Both of these young men have dug in and found their places with the WFLO family. Part-time announcers such as Stacy Bolt, and Jacob Miller have added their unique personalities to the Flo airwaves in the past few years along with weekend talents, William Lynn and Novey Wiley and his son, David. Betty Robb Breen was a favorite behind the mic from late 2007 until she moved away in December of 2011. Veteran radio announcer, Dan Albus, came to WFLO in 2011 and found his niche as Swingin’ Years host and morning and afternoon personality. 2012 saw the passing of two WFLO icons when our radio family lost our president and former General Manager, John Wilson, who had come to the station in 1950. John was a true radio pioneer and worked hard to establish WFLO AM/FM as “Your full service hometown station”. His dedication and influence will be felt for years to come. Ann McGahey, passed away in the Fall of the year. Annie, as she was affectionately called by co-workers came to the WFLO family in the mid fifties and retired after 50 years of service. She was special to us all. The young sugar maple in the front yard of the station is a memorial to our dear friend. We call it “Annie’s Tree”.
In late summer 2007 WFLO celebrated its 60th anniversary. The event, which was open to the public, took place at the Train Station in Farmville and drew a packed house. Many of the former employees of WFLO were on hand to celebrate the station’s rich history. Among those were: Former general manager, Chuck Maillet, and Barbara Jean (B.J. the Deejay) Trear. Also, in 2007 WFLO was selected to represent Small-Market rural radio stations at the International Folklife Festival held at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. Henry Fulcher, Francis Wood and Chris Brochon were on hand to meet the public on this special occasion. A photograph was taken by world-renown photographer, Rowland Freeman, who traveled to the WFLO studios in Farmville to stage the shot that now resides in the Archives of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. A copy of that photograph hangs in the main office of the WFLO building.
FLO has continued to serve its vast audience over the years with varied programming. It has remained the full service hometown radio station listeners have known and trusted for generations. New state-of- the-art transmitters (both AM and FM) were installed to enhance the audio signals from both stations. WFLO is very much up to date with the digital age and is always evolving. The station became one of the first small market radio stations in the country to provide its listening audience with a free digital app so that it could be listened to at any time and any place in the world. The station’s website is followed by thousands of fans the world over and consistently draws an amazing amount of hits and visits.
Many of the part time and full time staff members have moved on into other vocations over the years. Dee Jays such as Payton Wall, Kiersten Freedman, J.D. Johnson, David Pepplar, Billy Johnson, Hannah Eason Will Pheiffer (who also worked full time for two years), Jewel Moore, Tyler Albus, Jacob Miller, Carl Benhoff, Jenny McIntosh (full time sales representative). Winning Queensberry has been a long time live sports announcer covering both High School and Hampden Sydney Football games with the help of his brother, Mark and others, including John and Mike Grant, Joe Freelander and Allen Queen.
After the passing of John and Jean Wilson in 2012 and 2015 respectively Colonial Broadcasting Company Inc. was reorganized with General Manager, Francis Wood attaining the position of President and Henry Fulcher remaining as Vice-President, Chris Wood became Secretary and Chris Brochon, Treasurer. The station was left to these individuals along with former sales manager, Polly Davis. Wood announced Chris Brochon as station manager in 2016. And, although Henry has had health problems over the years he still maintains a weekly radio show on WFLO-AM 870.
On December 31st at 6p.m. WFLO AM and FM signed off the air as Colonial Broadcasting Company Inc.
WFLO is back and ready to continue bringing value to the community that revived it. An updated history following the sale is coming soon.