Tarlow and Associates of Boston purchased the assets of WRKE from Elmore D. Heins. Before WHYE hit the air, they played "The Ole Mummer's Strut" all day. That, obviously, was to get attention. It was also rumored that the original "Y" announcers set up shop in a hotel room to practice the format so everything would be right before going on the air the first time.
Then the call letters were changed to WHYE and they instantly became top-40. It was the first "formatted" station in the market and took off like lightning. Jan Wilkins was 16 and in high school at the time of the switch. He said "Every teen in town was listening to the rock and roll"! Ray Mills was engineer and explained that the electronic sound that was used as a bump between news stories was actually a "mechanical thing".
The line-up had Glen C. Lewis (right) as the morning man.The Roanoke times had Glen listed as "The Turtle Voice". When he moved to WROV, he became the "Voice of the Turtle". Other announcers included George Pelletier, Jay Lucas, and stand-out jock Dave Van Horn. In 1958 and 1959 he was on the air doing the morning shift and then moved to the 3 to 6 p.m shift. Duane Eddy's "The Lonely One" was Dave's theme song. After leaving WHYE he moved across town to WDBJ. For the past 37 years Dave has been a sportscaster and was twice selected the VirginiaSportscaster of the Year by the National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association. During his Major League broadcasting career, Van Horne has called eight no-hitters, including two perfect games. He has also broadcast three World Series and National League Championship Series for a Canadian network and the Marlins 2003 World Championship season. This is Dave Van Horne's fifth season as the Marlins' lead radio voice.
According to realty transfer records in the city clerk of courts office, Tarlow and Associates sold WHYE radio and transmitter property, which included 5.5 acres of land located north of the Virginia Railway in the Southeast section of Roanoke, to Jefferson Broadcasting Corp (Jon Holiday of Charlotte and Joseph Mullin of Richmond) for $75,000 on June 30, 1959. Jefferson Broadcasting Corp - Joseph Mullen was President, Jon A. Holiday (left), Vice President & General Manager, Richard Brown was Program Director. Ray Mills was chief Engineer and Fred Anderson was News Director (Fred later worked at KABC TV in Los Angeles). The staff included Jon Holiday, Dick Brown, Dave Eldridge, Bill Spahr, and Jan Wilkins.
During the Holiday years WHYE (using Formatic's Exciters jingle package known as DO YOU REMEMBER?) began to soften the music, doing more big band, and added a lot of talk from ABC Radio.
On March 23, 1962 the station announced several personnel changes and the inauguration of a plan to stabilize the organization and program image. Mac Ahern, advertising agency executive joined WHYE as General Manager, Vice President and part owner of Roanoke Broadcasters Inc. To impress the staff upon his first day, he gave each one a $50.00 bill! Jon Holiday, remained President, and Nancy Holiday, became Secretary-Treasurer. Thorton Marshall was made Commercial Manager, coming from WSLS radio where he was Sales Manager for 9 years. James (Petie) Powell was appointed Sales Manager, moving from WSLS TV and radio where he was a sales representative.
Ray Bridges was hired as Program Manager, coming to WHYE from KUDI in Great Falls, Montana. The station returned to playing top-40 music with studios located on the second floor of the Chamber of Commerce building, 117 Church Avenue. The air staff included Bill Stevens - 5 a.m. "Operation Daybreak", Ray Bridges - 6 a.m. "Morning Express" (Ray actually used a two-tone whistle that he would blow to create the sound of a train whistle when giving time-checks) Ray was back at 12:15 for "Flair South", Jan Wilkins - news and sports on "Morning Express" and 9 a.m. "Downbeat" (Jan was also the station Production Manager and later went to WROV where he will always be remembered for the Automobile Exchange commercials he wrote and produced), Bill Spahr - 2 p.m. "Route 91", Warren Buford - covered afternoon news and sports, Bill Stevens - 6 p.m. "Sunset Strip". Bill Purcell was chief engineer, announcer and talented musician. He was more recognized by his stage name "Tongue Tide" of the "Tide Family". Other former staff members included, "Jack Shields" Jackson, Eddie Hale, and "Bob Lewis" Leftwich. On the left is an advertisement, which ran in the Roanoke Times & World News, Saturday March 31, 1962. (Click in the ad to enlarge).
Phil Beckman who has been a longtime fan of "Y Radio" passed on a copy of the transmitter log the day top-40 died at WHYE! It was July 17th, 1964. Eddie Hale had the honor of playing the last song - Dusty Springfield's " Wishin' and Hopin' ". That was the end of an era!
Also from Phil's collection is a News Intro , weather intro, news closing, and the "Bright New Day" jingle produced by Futuresonic Jingles, WHYE used two packages; "Pacemaker" produced in 1958 and the "Swinging Sound" produced in 1960. Next is Futuresonic jingle montage of the jingle packages used by WHYE radio.
WHYE was sold to a group of investors from Harrisonburg, VA - Dove, Doyle & Quann.
Homer Quann (left) was the general manager. The call letters remained WHYE but the format was changed to Country and Western. The announcers were "Jim McNeil" Hungate, Clif Davis, Jim Eanes (a regional country singer) and Uncle Joe Johnson. Joe was also a country music performer and had an unusual closing to his daily show.... "If ya need me, I'll call ya". The noon hour was handled by George "Jolly Don" McGraw who did his program from McGraw Record Mart in Salem. The weekend guys were "Dick Shelton" Brooks and "Steve-O-Reno" Nelson, a name given by Joe Johnson. "Cousin Zeke" Leonard started his Roanoke Radio Career after working at a Marion station.
The station quickly became the dominate country outlet in the market.
In 1965 WHYE and promoter Carlton Haney produced the first genuine bluegrass festival at John Cantrel's horse farm in Fincastle, Virginia. It wasn't long that the popularity of such festivals would catch on. The early shows used a stage made out of an old flatbed trailer. Everyone brought lawn chairs and blankets and sat on a hillside to watch the show. One of the first acts to perform was Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper and Jim & Jesse. Later, acts such as Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, Doc Watson, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band appeared at "Cantrell's Country Music Park". Carlton also booked country shows in the American Theater and the WHYE announcers would broadcast backstage and handle the introductions. At one show, crosstown announcer Mike Hanes, of rival station WKBA, appeared at the theater and asked to address the audience. The spotlight moved to Mike and he thanked all present who had listened to him over the years on WKBA. Then he surprised everyone by complimenting WHYE for becoming the number one and best country station in the valley! Then the spotlight moved the the "910 Music Men" and the audience gave them a standing ovation. Mike left WKBA and moved to Nashville to be with his wife Barbara Fairchild. Barbara later would have several top country hits.
As the old saying goes....all good things must come to an end. WHYE and country music did soon part. WHYE was a daytime station and crosstown WSLS and King Edward IV started playing and promoting country music 24 hours a day!
The next owner was Buford Epperson*, a cousin of Stuart Epperson, owner of WKBA. The call letters were changed to WPXI. (*Buford Epperson passed away in 1998 at the age of 63)
After the failure of WPXI the station became WTOY and focused on the urban market. It too went dark and several years later the call letters reappeared in the Roanoke Valley on 1480 khz. The reason for each failure was simple, daytime stations just couldn't be competitive with 24 hour full-service stations. Years later the FCC relaxed it's "Daytimer" rules and has allowed A.M. stations to remain on the air after local sunset with reduced power.
khz. frequency became WBNI, which stood for "Business, News, and Information",
Unfortunately this didn't work out either. On July 1, 1991, now owned by Perception
Media, 910 became the first contemporary Christian radio station in the valley.
Now known as "3WR - Family Radio". During this time, the station
hosted a widely popular Christian Rock show called "Lightswitch."
Originally, the show ran on Saturday nights, but switched to late Friday nights.
In 1994, with the arrival of competing FM contemporary Christian formats (Spirit
FM/PAR), 3WR switched to a Southern Gospel format. This format proved successful
for a number of years.
Contributors to this article were Jan Wilkins, Phil Beckman, Pat Garrett, Ben Peyton, "Robert Lewis" Leftwich, Tracy Carman of Media Archives, and Steve Nelson
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