Be a Part of Radio History Saturday Mornings in Mt. Airy
Every Saturday morning in downtown Mount Airy, legendary radio station WPAQ-AM invites visitors and locals to take part in history as the station broadcasts its live Merry-Go-Round program featuring bluegrass, old-time and gospel music from the historic Earle Theatre.
Merry-Go-Round is the second-longest-running live radio broadcast in the country, behind only the Grand Ole Opry. It began on Groundhog Day in 1948, the same day that WPAQ signed on the AM dial for the first time, and has continued weekly ever since.
The rousing performances begin at 11 a.m. They include multiple bands, many of them local and regional standouts in the Appalachian string-music tradition for which this area of the Blue Ridge Mountains is famous.
In addition to watching the show in person, listeners can tune in via 740 AM, 106.7 FM, online at www.WPAQ740.com or on WPAQ’s YouTube channel. This combination of old-school and modern methods for sharing music continues WPAQ’s original mission, to spread the music of the Blue Ridge Mountains to a wider audience.
Ralph Epperson developed that mission in the mid-1940s when he filed with the FCC to create the first radio station in Surry County, just across the state line from where he grew up in Ararat, Virginia. After graduating from John Brown University with a degree in radio engineering and serving in the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC, during WWII, Epperson returned home and began broadcasting music and preaching from the second story of his parents’ home on weekends. Local musicians and preachers would stop by the Epperson home to be on the air.
On Feb. 2, 1948, Epperson made his broadcasting official by founding WPAQ, "The Voice of the Blue Ridge." Merry-Go-Round was part of the offerings from the very beginning, as were live performances of local, regional and national musicians filling the airwaves with bluegrass, old-time and gospel music. Still to this day, live music performances take place during the week from the station's Studio A.
Other hot topics at the time the station started included tobacco market reports and agricultural pricing. WPAQ read local obituaries and continues that practice today. Its local sports broadcasts have chronicled multiple state championships over the years by the Granite Bears of Mount Airy High School.
Epperson passed away in 2006. Today his son, Kelly Epperson, carries on what his father founded.
“I kind of feel like my dad’s hand is on my shoulder,” Kelly Epperson says. “I just can’t imagine changing the format or doing anything different. He wanted to serve a purpose with a unique format and give the audience something else to listen to and enjoy and appreciate.”
In addition to tuning in to the station’s programming, visitors to Mount Airy can learn more about WPAQ at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History. An exhibit on the second floor of the museum details how Epperson founded the station and showcases pieces of original technology, advertisements and photos of the station’s early days.
But by far the best way to enjoy WPAQ at its finest is to buy a ticket and relax in your seat in the restored Earle Theatre on a Saturday morning while tapping your toe to string-music bands picking banjos and sawing fiddles.
As Ralph Epperson was known for saying, “Yes, indeed!”
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