W F D D - F
for your listening pleasure
by Bill Stracener,
WAKE FOREST MAGAZINE, January, 1971
"A spiritual oasis in
the desert of rock . . ."
"An alternative to the
'jungle' . . ."
Thus does President James
Ralph Scales hail Wake Forest's 36,000 watt stereo voice, WFDD-FM.
Scales says it is almost impossible
to overestimate the station's value to Winston-Salem and the greater Piedmont.
"In this age when live music is not as well attended we are dependent
on electronic listening," he says.
It is hardly an exaggeration
to say that the loss of the station would leave a cultural gap in its
Beaming its signal on a frequency
of 88.5, WFDD-FM reaches listeners in an 80 to 100 mile radius in the
most populous and wealthiest part of North Carolina and counts among its
followers regular listeners in the Virginia cities of Roanoke, Blacksburg
The development of a high
power, educational-good music station wasn't a rapid move, Dr. Julian
C. Burroughs Jr., the director of the station says, but as opportunities
arose, they were exploited.
WFDD got started on little
more than a pair of pliers and a prayer. Two Winston-Salem brothers, Ralph
and Dave Herring, using all homemade equipment except for microphones,
put the station on the air for the first time in 1948 on the old campus.
The signal was fed to carrier
current transmitters in the dormitories from studios in the old Groves
Stadium press box A year later, the studios were moved into the "lower
barracks" area behind Gore gymnasium. The signal was also being fed
into the community power line, and WFDD became the town of Wake Forest's
unofficial community radio station. Student residences were scattered
throughout the town, and otherwise many could not have heard the broadcasts.
Burroughs, who was a student
at Wake Forest then, remembers how announcers used to stop by the bus
station each morning to read the thermometer before coming to the station.
Their reading was the official WFDD temperature on the breakfast show.
When the college moved to
Winston-Salem in 1956, the station moved with it. It was still broadcasting
on AM, but some ingenious students figured they could get the signal out
to more people if they attached the transmitting antenna to the tip of
the Wait Chapel steeple. Their success was short-lived, however. The Federal
Communications Commission reminded them they were licensed only for carrier
current operation and ordered them to take down the antenna.
"Marathon 240" was
probably the biggest news at WFDD in those days, and it may hold the record
for the longest radio program ever produced in North Carolina. For 10
days straight, 24 volunteers, working six hour shifts, programmed music
– and only music.
For a while WFDD's popular
"Deaconlight Serenade" was being broadcast by a local commercial
station. That arrangement ended abruptly when somebody in the control
room let a forbidden word slip out over the air.
As the decade of the 1960's
opened, officials were considering transforming the commercial-sounding
WFDD into an FM educational station. They wrote the FCC, and were told
they could not have a call sign of WFDD because "there's a college
station near Raleigh that has that call"! That problem was quickly
WFDD-FM went on the air community-wide
with 10 watts March 31, 1961. Authority to begin broadcasting was received
from the FCC by wire at 6:40 p.m., and 20 minutes later the station was
on the air with the news.
For the next six years, WFFD-FM
operated only during the school year, but it was gaining a small but loyal
following. At the same time, the groundwork was being laid for expansion,
though students then did not see how the station could ever find enough
money to boost the power.
Those years were highlighted
by on-the-scene coverage of the struggles within the Baptist State Convention
over the method of appointing the school's trustees.
The station was – as it is
today – located on the second floor of Reynolda Hall at the end of "Pub
Row." The tower was a six-foot halo antenna mounted to one of the
WFDD-FM got its chance for
a power boost with the demise of another local FM station in the mid-60's.
WYFS, which programmed classical music almost exclusively, could not sustain
itself, and its supporters, the Friends of Fine Broadcasting, came to
Wake Forest for help.
The University agreed to operate
the station year round and pay the operating costs, if the Friends of
Fine Broadcasting could help raise the money needed for capital improvements.
The Hanes and Reynolds interests
in Winston-Salem, together with many other people, contributed to the
cause, and the $35,000 needed to boost the station's power to 36,000 watts
"Without the encouragement,
cooperation, and favorable response of Dr. Harold W. Tribble (who at the
time was University president), we might not have been able to expand,"
Another local station, WAIR,
offered its tower, bans mister, antenna, coaxial cable and transmitter
shed to the University. The offer was accepted. Although the cable was
replaced and a new $16,000 transmitter was bought, the station used the
"bat wings" antenna and the tower on Miller Street.
On April 20, 1967, WFDD-FM
began broadcasting with 36,000 watts of power. Almost immediately irritated
television viewers began complaining the station was interfering with
the local ABC affiliate, Channel 8.
The complaints stemmed from
the strong FM signals of WFDD at a frequency of 88.5 and WAIR at 93.1,
which add up to 181.6, the video frequency of Channel 8. The combination
caused internal cross-modulation in some poorly constructed sets.
The FCC ordered the station
to reduce its transmitter power from 10,000 watts to 2,200 on July 3,
1967 and WFDD-FM was silenced for two days while the modifications were
About a month later, the FCC
allowed WFDD-FM to increase its transmitter power to 5,000 watts and after
October, 1967, the station was back up to full power.
WFDD-FM is moving into the
1970's with a $45,000 yearly budget, a third of which was garnered when
it competed against 60 other similar stations for one of ten national
grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The station is still
being operated primarily by students, although there are now three full-time
employees – a program director, a production coordinator and an engineer.
The grant also makes the station eligible for subsequent funding, Burroughs
WFDD-FM will also be one of
the 100 stations, and the only one between Richmond, Va., and Tallahassee,
Fla., eligible to join a daily network radio service. Burroughs says the
network's emphasis will be on in-depth news and public affairs, background
analysis and investigative reporting.
The network, scheduled to
start in April, will be based in Washington and New York, but will be
decentralized, and individual stations will contribute to programming.
National Public Radio, which will operate the network, will also conduct
ratings surveys, giving WFDD-FM its first chance to see the extent of
Burroughs says "There
is no station in North Carolina that is providing a comparable program
service," and he feels WFDD-FM, with its greater variety of programming
has more than filled the gap left by WYFS.
The station runs classical
music primarily but intersperses network and local talk shows and documentaries.
The community showed a measure
of its appreciation recently when the station's stereo generator failed.
A low pressure campaign this fall successfully raised the $3,000 needed
for a new generator and money to install it in time to broadcast Christmas
music in stereo.
Contributions included a $1,500
matching fund gift from WSJS Radio and Television, a $250 challenge gift
from the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, and numerous gifts from listeners,
including cartoonist Dick Moores, who draws the syndicated comic strip
"Gasoline Alley." Moores, who lives in Fairview in Buncombe
County, wrote "Yours is our favorite station. Thank you for the good
music.... You come in loud and clear."
The station has at least one
other enthusiastic fan — President Scales
"I'm strongly biased
in favor of it. Put down anything good," he told this writer. "I'll
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