When WDBJ-AM/FM/TV were split up in 1969, Jim Gibbons of Frederick, Maryland, bought the 94.9 FM license and renamed it WPVR. (Early rate cards referred to Pleasant Valley Radio, but after a substantial power increase it became known as the Powerful Voice of Roanoke.) Sign-on was November 1st. Studios and offices were set up on the first floor of the Hotel Roanoke in the former beauty salon, and during the early days many came in looking for the salon. The station was a clone of Gibbons’ WFRE in Frederick with the music format and imaging supplied by Dawson Communications, Inc. (DCI) of Dallas.
Hal McArthur writes: “I was hired by Al Rogers from Frederick who along with a couple of others were doing marathon shifts. My first night on the air, the two microphones were taped together with masking tape and hand held. The two turntables were sitting in cardboard boxes on the floor. All of the albums were leaning against the wall all around the studio. I sat cross-legged on the floor to do the show.
“There were two telephones in the studio - one for the station and one for the hotel’s room service. We also had maid service provided by the hotel. I actually had a maid lift the needle off the record, dust it and put it back down on the record! She also would come in during the news and hum as she worked.
”The teletype machine was in a closet. It got hot, it got full, and it was noisy when the door was left open during a frantic rip and read.
”At each break on the hour, the format called for reading a promo line that went something like: "...broadcasting from the beautiful Hotel Roanoke, today hosting the Virginia Funeral Directors Association".
In addition to McArthur, some of the early on-air personalities were Lloyd Wayne (Shockley) – Norm Shockley’s brother, Dick Moody, Bob Keeton, Tom Crockett, Jim Clark, Jeff Hunt, Ben Holland and Adrian Cronauer. Cronauer was fresh out of the Air Force at the time, and it would be about a dozen more years before he’d gain widespread notoriety as portrayed by Robin Williams in “Good Morning, Vietnam”. Other on-air personalities included Bob Abbott, Leroy McDaniel, Ronnie Stoots, Charlie Perkinson, Ed Gray, John Lawrence, Pat Garrett, and Bucky Stover. Stover was hired by Cronauer in '74 when he was only 17. He always said Cronauer would make him sit down and practice pronouncing words correctly e.g. "RO-a-noke..... WEATH-er... FRI-day...." etc.
left to right - "Lloyd Wayne" Shockley - Ed Gray - Dick Moody - Adrian Cronauer
Van Hobbs resurrected his "Music Out of the Night" show from WDBJ on WPVR. Hobbs would select instrumental love songs and read poetry throughout the evening hours. Hal McArthur remarked that “Van would come in and read the playlist, and then someone else would put his shows together". This was the beginning of what now is referred to as "voice tracking". Sometimes his pronunciations were more than comical.”
Press the button to listen to Van Hobbs
Managers and salespersons included Dick Cantor, Stan Stoller, Danny Wilson, Blair Brockmeyer, Dave Taylor and Cronauer. Libby Dangerfield was the first receptionist, then WKBA singer Bernita Comer joined up to handle office duties and commercial traffic. (Bernita went with Virginia Western Community College’s public station WVWR when it signed on in ’73 and remained there for more than 20 years.) Channel 7’s Al Dyson was WPVR’s Chief Engineer, and WDBJ’s Ben Givauden contributed engineering and on-air help.
Special features like the Metropolitan Opera, All That Jazz, Here’s Broadway and Washington Redskins football were also part of the programming schedule. (Station owner Gibbons was once the “Voice of the Redskins”.) Daily features included the Working Girl of the Day and the WPVR Listening Post. Traffic reports were phoned in from service stations at key intersections throughout the city, but there were rarely any traffic problems to report.
McArthur recalls the playlist was very tight and highly controlled. When occasionally the list called for a song the station didn’t have, substitutions were made at the air personality’s discretion. One weekend a Crosby Stills & Nash album was left in the control room prompting a Monday morning call from Gibbons to complain about hearing “...that Nash group” on his station.
Indeed, about 60% of WPVR’s music consisted of instrumental covers of pop hits, but vocals by artists like Jim Croce, the Fifth Dimension, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, John Sebastian, Barbra Streisand, Gordon Lightfoot, Bread, America and the Carpenters made Roanoke’s station “for groovy grownups” “like no other”!
When WPVR began remote broadcasts from special events and sponsor locations, it was decided the personalities would appear in matching tuxedos to reflect the “class” of the home base Hotel Roanoke. Obviously, this also allowed the station’s personnel to stand out in any crowd. Below - L to R Jeff Hunt, Adrian Cronauer, Dick Moody & Lloyd Wayne.
WPVR produced a table-top newsletter that was distributed to dozens of area restaurants each weekday morning in time for the breakfast crowd. This unique promotional tool featured world, national and local headlines plus sports and weather. Click here to read several table-top newsletters
In 1973, automation arrived. The equipment sat in the corner of the studio for about 6 months before it was put in use. There would still be live announcers, but the personality that made WPVR “The Only Groovy One” in its early years was gone. Acording to Pat Garrett "the Automation was named and referred to as "Martha" and had no idea why, but I'm the one who decided that it stood for "Monstrous and Ridiculous Trash Heap Assembly"... by the time I was there one of the reel-to-reels had been removed, there were three, and since each automation tape lasted one half hour, that meant you could pre-record your breaks and load up 90 minutes worth in advance."
"Once they bought the automation they bought the music from a company in Kalamazoo, MI called "Kalamusic". The tapes all had a picture of a butterfly on each box. Kalamusic had under contract an orchestra called "The Fairfield Orchestra & Chorus" and everytime a song by them came up on any of the tapes we were allowed to say "....and that was by OUR VERY OWN WPVR orchestra and chorus" We had people who actually thought it was all of the announcers gathering around the microphone and singing. I often got calls from little old ladies telling me how pretty we all sang."
Later in the 70s, Gibbons bought WFIR and the AM-FM combo was housed in Towers Shopping Center. The stations remained part of Jim Gibbons Radio until sold in 2000. In the spring of 1988, the stations were moved once again, making their home on Hounds Chase Lane, next to the Kabuki restaurant. During this time WPVR was called "The Arrow" and played contemporary music.
In 2000, WPVR-FM was purchased by Mel Wheeler, Incorporated. There was speculation as to what the new format would become. For several days WPVR played "It's Only Rock'n Roll" by the Rolling Stones over and over again. Then suddenly it's call letters were changed to WSLC-FM and the music
format was changed to country. For the next several months the station fine tuned it's modern country format to become today's "Star Country". The number one country station in the market and one of the overall top three stations in Roanoke and Lynchburg.
Special thanks to Jeff Hunt who was a member of the original Staff of WPVR for this contribution to Roanoke Radio. Also special thanks go out to Pat Garrett and Jim Clark for their inputs.