|City of license||Mount Airy, North Carolina|
|Broadcast area||Piedmont of North Carolina
|Slogan||"The Voice of the Blue Ridge"|
|First air date||February 2, 1948|
|Power||10,000 watts daytime
1,000 watts critical hours
7 watts night
|Owner||WPAQ Radio, Inc.|
WPAQ is an Americana, and Bluegrass formatted broadcast radio station licensed to Mount Airy, North Carolina, serving the PiedmontPiedmont of North Carolina and the Southside and Southwestern sections of Virginia. WPAQ is owned and operated by WPAQ Radio, Inc.
One listener said the letters should stand for "We Piddle Around Quietly."
Ralph Epperson observed in 1948 that the popularity of old-time music was falling off, and one area radio station needed to take on the job of preserving it. As a child he enjoyed listening to distant AM radio stations, and in college he changed his major to radio technology. He worked for the United States Naval Research Laboratory before going into broadcasting, and he never dreamed he would own a radio station. But Epperson, his father, and cousin, literally built the new radio station, including the 305-foot tower still used over 65 years later. So much cursing took place that, according to Epperson, one minister said it would take a six-month revival meeting to make up for it. Fiddle player Benton Flippen helped dedicate the new studio February 1, 1948, the night before actual broadcasts began.
Epperson's "Merry Go-Round," which began airing on WPAQ in 1948, was the third-longest live-music show on radio in 1998 (The Grand Ole Opry was the longest-running). In the mid-1990s, the show moved to the Downtown Cinema. At one time, Epperson made recordings of the live performances to air later, and he continued to play these recordings in the 1990s on another show he hosted.
Epperson did pretty much everything, working as a DJ during the day, selling air time, repairing equipment, sometimes sleeping on a cot at the station before he got married.
Among the big names who played on WPAQ: Bill Monroe's brother Charlie Monroe, Grandpa Jones, Little Jimmy Dickens, Del Reeves, Ralph Stanley, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, and Mac Wiseman. Among those local performers making appearances was Tommy Jarrell, a fiddle player from Surry County.
In the 1950s, WPAQ increased its power to 10,000 watts.
WPAQ has consistently aired Christian music and preaching with entirely a bluegrass and old-time music format, and big band music in the evenings from 6 pm until sundown. In addition to music, WPAQ offered local news, community announcements and obituaries. Live broadcasts aired on weekends, with performers waiting as long as six months to go on the air.
Paul Brown, who later became program director of WFDD, worked at WPAQ in the 1980s. He described his experience as "like walking into another era."
The Winston-Salem Journal article on the station's 50th anniversary described the studios this way:
Little has changed since Flippin [sic] and his players jammed in Epperson's studio that first night. The golden, 6-inch-thick pine doors built by Epperson's cousin to cloak the sound in the station's studios remain in place. Epperson still uses some of the same equipment he installed at the beginning -- black, hulking boxes of electronics with sturdy knobs and rounded, glass gauges.
Unlike other stations that changed in order to make money, WPAQ remained committed to its traditions.
In 2005, the Surry Arts Council, using a grant from the North Carolina Arts Council, began working to preserve Epperson's extensive collection of recordings, including lacquered discs and reel-to-reel tapes. The recordings had been stored in boxes, but they were moved to a climate-controlled environment. Then, after an inventory, about 1000 hours of recordings went to The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for cleaning and digital recording, which would allow transfer to compact discs and the Internet. The original recordings were moved to the Southern Folklife Collection.
Epperson's death May 31, 2006 led to rumors the station would make changes, but his son Kelly Epperson, who had taken over the station, did not plan to change—at least not what the station did. He did change how it was done. On April 5, 2007, which would have been Epperson's 86th birthday, WPAQ began streaming over the Internet—with Flippen playing his fiddle once again for the occasion—allowing the station to be heard all over the world. And responses came from all over the world. Streaming continued even after a significant increase in costs for royalties.
- Jeri Rowe, "WPAQ Founder: Strong Passion from a Quiet, Humble Man," Greensboro News & Record, June 6, 2006.
- Pruett, David B. (2002). "WPAQ Radio: The Voice of the Blue Ridge Mountains" in Country Music Annual 2002 =. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky.
- William L. Holmes, "Alive & Pickin' for 50 Years, Mountain Music Has Found a Home at Radio Station," Winston-Salem Journal, February 1, 1998.
- Phil Goble Jr., "'Hello, World'; WPAQ Streams to Listeners Online," Mt. Airy News, April 6, 2007.
- Pruett, David B. (2000). "Preserving Cultural Identity: WPAQ Radio and the Dissemination of Bluegrass and Old-time Music" Master’s Thesis,. Tallahassee, FL: Florida State University.
- Tom Joyce, "Broadcaster of 50 Years Passes Away," Mt. Airy News August 5, 2008.
- "Galax Foundation Scholarship Named in Honor of Eppersons," Mt. Airy News, September 13, 2006
- Author: Lisa O'Donnell, "Saving Tunes: Bluegrass-Station Owner, Archivists Preserving Collection," Winston-Salem Journal, July 31, 2005.
- Phil Goble Jr., "Ralph Epperson Will Be Inducted into Hall of Fame," Mt. Airy News, March 11, 2006.
- Tom Joyce, "WPAQ Sticks by Streaming," Mt. Airy News, July 5, 2007.