WFMV (defunct)

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WFMV was the callsign for an FM broadcast radio station in Richmond, Virginia from 1961 to 1971. One of the most favorably equipped of Virginia's early FM stations, it was Virginia's first station to broadcast in stereo. WFMV had a fine music (classical) format throughout its existence, as well as a small, but loyal and influential listener group.

New owners changed the callsign in 1970 (to WEZS) and the format in 1971 (to Easy Listening). However, groups of listeners and employees followed the station (or at least its music library and format) through 2 changes to its current place on a non-commercial frequency as WCVE-FM, an NPR member.

The Blairstown, New Jersey station used an old railway station building along the Lackawanna Cut-Off in 1988. The station became WHCY.

The WFMV callsign was later reassigned by the FCC to an FM station in Blairstown, New Jersey, and then in 1993 to a station in South Carolina.

History[edit]

Virginia's first stereo radio station[edit]

New technology was added to FM radio in the early 1960s to allow FM stereo transmissions, where the frequency modulated radio signal is used to carry stereophonic sound, using the pilot-tone multiplex system. WFMV was the first radio station in Virginia to broadcast in multiplex stereo. At 103.7 MHz, it was licensed for 74,000 watts. The transmitter site, which was favorably located on high ground (200 ft above sea level) west of Richmond in the woods off Old Bon Air Road in Chesterfield County near Bon Air, had a tower extending another 125' and signals could be heard in Charlottesville, about 70 miles away.

The station went on the air in 1961 and was operated by Professional Broadcasting, Inc. In 1964, Fidelity Bankers Life Insurance Company (founded in Richmond in 1953) bought the station as an investment and moved the studios to their suburban headquarters at Willow Lawn in Henrico County. For a time, it was co managed with WGOE, a 1000 watt AM daytime station owned by brothers Major and J. Sargeant Reynolds. By 1968, the station's owner, Richmond-based Fidelity Bankers Life Insurance Company, had grown to became one of the largest insurance holding companies in the United States, controlling over $4.5 billion of life insurance and assets of over $500 million.

Sold as an investment; spartan operating conditions[edit]

In 1969, Fidelity Bankers sold WFMV to Ben Thomas, an investor and a mobile home manufacturer from Greencastle, Pennsylvania. Thomas, who managed the operation from his base in Pennsylvania, relocated the studios into two used office trailers at the rural transmitter site. The remote location was located on a dirt road, essentially an old fire trail, which wound through the woods to reach the site. During rain and snow, it was often accessible only by foot.

Thomas had financial problems, and employees, mostly college students, were bolstered by loyal listeners and continued to man the station even when payrolls were late and inclement weather blocked access to the site. Engineering staff from nearby stations, notably the well-funded WRVA ("The 50,000 watt Voice of Virginia"), loaned parts and repair talent to help maintain the aging transmitting equipment. Although privately owned, WFMV had become something of a community effort.

Save Fine Music and listeners win format retention, changes[edit]

In 1971, Thomas sold the station to EZ Communications of Northern Virginia, which operated WEEL (AM) and WEZR (FM) in Manassas. The new owners were anxious to upgrade the equipment and wanted to change the format to turn the finances around, as WFMV Arbitron listener ratings and advertising revenue had each had been very low.

Fearing loss of Richmond's only classical music station, a group of loyal listeners then formed the "Save Fine Music" committee which lobbied the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and EZ Communications to block the transfer and keep the classical format for another year or until arrangements could be made with Union Theological Seminary & Presbyterian School of Christian Education to upgrade their station, WRFK (FM), to take over the format in the community. This was accomplished and EZ Communications donated the WFMV library to WRFK, and changed formats and call sign to become WEZS(FM).( That station has been through a plethora of owners, including EZ Communications, Ragan Henry Broadcasting, Radio Ventures, Carlyle, Liberty Broadcasting, SFX, Capstar, AMFM, and is currently own by Cox and is now WURV )

WRFK, long operated by the not-for-profit seminary, was on 106.5 MHz, a commercial frequency. This worked out for a while until a decision was made by the school in 1988 to sell the increasingly valuable commercial frequency.( the 106.5 frequency is currently owned by Clear Channel Communications and is now popular Urban Contemporary station WBTJ," The Beat " ) Another transition was coordinated, this time to a non-commercial frequency operated by the Commonwealth Public Broadcasting Company, the local PBS affiliate which operated WCVE-TV (Channel 23) which was headed by Virginia broadcasting pioneer Ben Spiller. The new station became WCVE-FM at 88.9 MHz, with transmitter, tower, and studios located at the Channel 23/57 complex located at 23 Sesame Street in Bon Air

In the summer of 1970, the former WFMB, now WEZS, still classical by day, started a late night weekend Progressive Rock Show called "Veronica Lake", which usually ran from Midnight to 3am on Saturday and Sunday morning. Hosted by local movie critic Jerry Williams, the show, which was the first to play Rock LP cuts in the new " progressive " style of several popular west coast FM stations, gained a cult audience and ran until early 1971 and its success probably spurned former sister station WGOE-AM, to dump its failing Top 40 format and go full-time " Progressive Rock " that same year.

From 1969 to 1987, 103.7's calls were WEZS, starting in 1971 with a Beautiful Music format which evolved into an adult contemporary format in 1982, which remained on the station, which changed call letters to WMXB in 1987, until becoming WURV with an adult album alternative format in 2010.

The legend of WFMV lives on in Richmond[edit]

The late Grete Dollitz's program, "An Hour With the Guitar" aired for more than 30 years, originally on WFMV, and then on WCVE-FM, a National Public Radio(NPR) affiliate, until December 2012.

External links[edit]