|Broadcast area||Chattanooga, Tennessee|
|First air date||1961|
|HAAT||314 meters (1,030 ft)|
|Callsign meaning||Southern Missionary College (former name of SAU)|
|Affiliations||National Public Radio (secondary); Public Radio International; American Public Media|
|Owner||Southern Adventist University|
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WSMC-FM (90.5 FM), is the Chattanooga, Tennessee, area's only radio station featuring classical music programming. It is licensed to Southern Adventist University (SAU), a four-year institution located in nearby Collegedale. Its signal reaches parts of the states of Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina. Its programming can be heard on low-powered repeater W217AW-FM 91.3 in Dalton, Georgia.
Founded in 1961, the station programs classical music (including opera and similar genres) during most of the broadcast day Sundays through Fridays. WSMC has only three full-time employees: the general manager, corporate sales manager, and operations manager. The announcers and production staff consist entirely of SAU students. Originally airing on 88.1 FM, it moved to 90.7 in 1967 and to 90.3 in 1990. For years, its signal was spotty at best in downtown Chattanooga. However, in 1990, it moved from its original tower on White Oak Mountain to a new tower on Mowbray Mountain in Soddy-Daisy, allowing it better coverage of Chattanooga.
The call sign, WSMC, stands for Southern Missionary College, SAU's name at the time the station signed on.
Religious programming controversies
WSMC had been one of the charter members of NPR in 1971. However, because of the religious doctrine of the licensee's church body, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, WSMC cannot air live news programming from sunset on Friday evening until sunset on Saturday evening. This frequently resulted in NPR's flagship newscast, All Things Considered, being interrupted in progress—a situation that did not sit well with NPR during the 1990s.
Coinciding with this dispute, a citizens' group called "Chattanoogans for Better Public Radio" took exception to what group organizer Bob Steverson described as the "awkward marriage of convenience" between WSMC and NPR. Most of NPR's funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, itself subsidized by Federal appropriations. From sunset on Friday evening to sunset on Saturday evening, WSMC aired a variety of local and national religious programs. The groups complained that it was inappropriate for WSMC to receive federal funding (or programming provided therefrom), since it aired more religious programming than could plausibly be considered a public service. Some individuals also alleged that the religious programming, mandated by the administration of what was then Southern College of Seventh-Day Adventists, amounted to catering to a religious minority at the expense of the larger public in the Tennessee Valley.
In March 1995, WSMC formed a community advisory board to address these concerns. However, as Steverson's group saw it, Southern College had three options—stop preempting NPR programming, move NPR programming to the area's other NPR member station, WUTC, or give up its license to another owner. In June 1995, NPR officials began the process of terminating WSMC's membership on the grounds that the station preempted NPR programming too often and aired too much religious programming. In response, college officials and station management decided to take action themselves, discontinuing most NPR programming, news included, taking effect on September 30, 1995. Replacing ATC were Public Radio International's The World and American Public Media's Marketplace, which could air on a delayed basis (or even be preempted), instead of live, as ATC does. A few NPR programs remained on the schedule (purchased separately without a network discount); most of the other programs moved to WUTC, which replaced WSMC as the Chattanooga market's flagship NPR station. WSMC has since dropped most NPR programming from its schedule, though it does still air NPR news updates.
Besides airing classical music and some religious programs on Saturdays, WSMC also airs "Cowboy Jubilee," a nostalgic program of Western music. Its format is decidedly less diverse than a typical public radio station, targeting an older, more conservative listenership than public radio normally attracts.
- Bhatti, Jabeen. Religious program dispute drives Chattanooga station out of NPR. Current, 1995-07-31.
- Bhatti, Jabeen. After sundown Friday in Chattanooga, is WSMC still a public radio station? Current, 1995-04-03.
- 1995 report on listener dissastisfaction over religious programming on WSMC
- Report on WSMC's discontinuing full membership in NPR