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Monday, January 6, 2014

101.1FM, WSGS Radio, My Favorite Places In Appalachia

I have mentioned in other posts once or twice the fact that I grew up listening to radio on a couple of stations in Eastern Kentucky.  But the station I have mentioned most frequently and the one I consider to be the best radio station in Appalachia is WSGS FM 101.1 in Hazard, KY.  Their excellent website can be found at WSGS Radio . The station was one of the first to be licensed in Eastern Kentucky and one of the first 100,000 watt stations in the area also.  At the time, Hazard was a small town and waiting for the coal boom which made it famous.  Earnest Sparkman, a native of Knott County and a former University of Kentucky basketball player, along with a couple of partners obtained a license and opened the station.  Over the course of time, Earnest Sparkman managed to buy out all his partners and his descendants still operate the station today.  They play an eclectic mix of country, bluegrass, mountain music, and a bit of other genres sometimes accidentally and sometime on purpose.  They are available over the Internet and have a loyal following of former Eastern Kentucky people all over the world.  Their website is also very well managed and takes a strong interest in history, both their own and that of the local area. 
WSGS is exactly what a small town radio station should be and yet, with 100,000 watts of power and a broadcast tower located on one of the highest mountains in Kentucky, they boom their signal out over portions of five or more states.  You can listen to them all the way from Southern West Virginia to Western Kentucky and from Southern Ohio to Western North Carolina and a large chunk of East Tennessee.  They still run a local advertising base with most advertisers being businesses located in Perry County and the surrounding counties.  They run one of the best bluegrass and classic country formats in the entire southeast and regularly play songs from the early days of radio.  They also have recently resurrected their swap shop show which had been off the air for several years.  They broadcast University of Kentucky men's basketball and a plethora of local and regional high school games.  They are also one of the longest running broadcasters of the Kentucky Sweet Sixteen Boy's Basketball Tournament in the entire state. 
But the best, most unique, and most entertaining part of their regular broadcast schedule is known as The Faron And Scott Show, a wide ranging, free wheeling half hour of conversation, country music, telephone requests and bizarre slices of life which comes on each weekday morning at 9:35am.  The show is run by the station manager, Faron Sparkman, and a regular member of the broadcast crew, Scott Napier.  It is the continuation of what began as The Faron And Bob Show or The Excellent Adventure.  The show was renamed after the death of long time station engineer, Bob Hale, who passed away in his early 60's on the 60th anniversary of the station after having been the man who held equipment together and cohosting the show for many years.  The Faron And Scott Show is very difficult to describe but it is a throwback to all the little radio stations in the southeastern United States when new station owners and broadcasters were first trying to find out exactly what that new fangled thing radio was all about.  They allow call ins and have a regular cast of callers from around the area who might call to talk about anything from the death of Ray Price to the ongoing effort to catch an irritating rooster running loose in the city limits of Hazard. One of the more hilarious recent call in requests was for the country classic song "Make The World Go Away" by Eddy Arnold for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in light of his recent political fiasco with the lane closure on the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, New Jersey.  The show begins with a minute or so blend of short sound clips gleaned from radio, television, old commercials, and news shows that will initially make no sense whatsoever to the new listener.  I am certain that nearly every weekday at least one or two people driving through the area hear the beginning of the show and believe they have wandered into the Twilight Zone and rapidly choose to miss out on one of the most unique and interesting radio shows in America today.  But for the thousands of regular listeners and hundreds of regular callers, the show is a mandatory part of daily life in Appalachia.  The show might feature an interview with a new performer or band who are on the road promoting a new release or  a tribute to some radio legend who has passed away recently.  The unlimited surprises of life on the radio are what make the show well worth your time. 

Over the 65 years that WSGS has been in operation, they have survived floods, a major fire, and the onslaught of canned radio on satellite.  Their listeners are loyal and never desert the station.  The management also has managed to preserve thousands of hours of priceless tape including founder Earnest Sparkman broadcasting from the scene of the Floyd County School Bus Wreck; live music performances by The Singing Miner, a pro-union disc jockey and former coal miner; sports broadcasts by famed basketball announcer Cawood Ledford; and hours and hours of Earnest Sparkan playing Santa Claus and a character known as Greasy Creek Bill who still delivers taped one liners on the station long after the death of his creator.

WSGS is a throwback to radio as it used to be and a harbinger of what radio could be if station owners had more in mind than just selling advertisements and pleasing whatever statistical slice of the community which spends the most money.  It is a place where a poor, isolated, Appalachian of little or no means can feel comfortable calling in to share human contact with a disc jockey who will provide that contact with respect, humor, and appreciation.  WSGS is well worth spending some of your time either driving in your car, or listening on the internet in order to enjoy a slice of life in the Appalachia of both today and yesterday.  It is one of my favorite places in Appalachia.      


Danny Stinnett said...

Wsgs is a wonderful Real radio station,A.station with power that's unbelievable for a FM station .I'm kind of a radio nut lol tuning in stations late at night an in the daytime as well ,I have picked up WSGS radio from 50 miles south of Indianapolis in the middle of the day.An I live on the south side of Louisville ky..An still reserve WSGS radio some days Depending on the weather,But just a few years ago I could reserve this station anytime day or night.Now I can reserve it on my internet 24/7 now.Loving WSGS has made me take a number of trips to Hazard Ky..An found a beautiful city with wonderful friendly people an still enjoy trips to Hazard Ky..Please keep up the wonderful work you are doing are a jewel in the queen city of the Mountains.

Roger D. Hicks said...

Thanks for the great comment about WSGS. WSGS has been running a commercial or sound bite recently from Shane Sparkman asking listeners, especially in the Lexington area, who have been experiencing times when other stations override the signal from WSGS. I have sometimes seen it when I go west of London, KY. All listeners should call the station or send them an E-mail if you have problems with receiving their signal in areas where you usually could. Apparently somebody is either running a bootleg station on that band width or a legal station is illegally boosting their signal.