Two more Radio Pioneers, Jane Lyle and Claire Collins
Some of these station histories might give the wrong impression, that mostly men had done the work to connect Bath and Highland with the Allegheny Mountain Radio network of stations. For this pair of stories we spoke with two women who were part of the launching process. Claire Collins, who was Bath county administrator at the time, and Jane Lyle, of Virginia Cooperative Extension remember the people and the process.
“The early meetings we were very fortunate to use the Bolar Ruritan Club, and thanks to the club, so that we all could have a special place that we knew we could meet at so that we could help get this project going. And we would have people, what I call the “spark plugs” come. And the spark plugs of the whole committee were people like Jack Taylor from Dominion Virginia Power, John Hart, Julian Griffin, Ellen Purvis, Richard Byrd, Doug Hirsh, Richard Blankenship, Bertha Hise. We had George Byrd from Highland, Robin Sullenberger, Rodney Leech, Jane Lyle from Virginia Cooperative Extension Service in Bath. All these people would come together on a regular basis. Jim Tennant came. Some other members of the IDA would come talk about we could get this going with Gibbs.”
Two other Highland pioneers were Ardis Stevenson, the 4-H, and Home Extension agent, and Mary Sweitzer the first, and most senior deejay at WVLS.
Claire Collins continued.
“It was a great opportunity for all of us to get together and network and see what we could work on together. Many things came out of those meetings in addition to the radio on how we could all work together. Many of those people now are deceased but they were the strongholds of our community. Some of them are aging now, and aren’t able to do, but we need to consider them our unsung heroes.
I have fond memories of all of those people when I think back on the ideas that came forward and how we implemented them. It was taking all those small baby steps to get to the big step of the actual launch of the two radio stations in Bath and Highland licensed both in September of 1995, 20 years ago. It’s a way to link us altogether to know what’s going on.”
Jane Lyle, was quick to realize how a radio station could benefit Highland and Bath, and knew that a grassroots effort would be the only thing that could work.
“The Extension Service was fortunate enough to have a radio program off of WKEY in Covington, but our problem was so little of Bath County could hear anything that we put on that radio station, so we very much wanted something that could cover more of the county. Also, prior to that, in the late sixties even, two-thirds of our county did not even have telephone service.”
The area is still covered by at least three different phone companies not including the wide selection of cell services, which vary a lot in how well they maintain signal.
“So, it was not a thing of picking up a phone and calling an area and getting in touch with some one about some community project or event, or emergency. You either had to mail a letter, or you had to get in your car, and go see that person because there was no telephone service. We were very much aware of the fact that we needed better communication. We are an isolated county; we still are isolated somewhat, but with modern technology, we certainly don’t have to worry about not hearing or not being notified of something that’s going on.”
These days an AM/FM station might seem a little old fashioned, or maybe a minimal tool for communicating, but Mrs. Lyle reminded us it was not always a “given”.
“Not every one wanted a radio station. We had to find a site, and of course being you know, public radio and with a budget of zero on day one, we did not have funding to purchase any property, and just went on faith.”
That faith, kept the organizing group going for about four years, even at times when not everything seemed to go smoothly.
Again Jane Lyle,
“The principal of the local high school was very skeptical about a radio station being successful, and about any impact that it might have on the school programs, and just did not want us to put a permanent structure on the property, in case it failed.”
So the design of the current WCHG building is such that it could be moved from the site if the station couldn’t sustain itself.
“Well, none of us thought it was going to fail, but we didn’t convince him that we could build a larger station than we did.“
Just this past Sunday afternoon, and Monday evening when there was a string of musicians coming through WCHG, the little building was packed to the gills, but no one was complaining.
“We all enjoy our radio station today. I just think having program that the community wants rather than what a corporation wants is you know, it’s just absolutely wonderful.”
Though each station has its own call letters, as we hear so often on station IDs, they are linked continuously, not only through the daily and evening programs, but also through their volunteer Board of Directors, their management and their budget. Mrs. Lyle noted that connectedness from the beginning.
“One of the greatest things in our success was our connection with the established radio station at Frost because of the deep library that they had for interviews, music, you know we couldn’t have done it without that, and we would never have been successful without the resources that were shared from the Frost station.”
And while all three stations continue to draw on those resources, changing times and changing tastes require staff and volunteers to keep pace with what listeners want to hear. The phone lines are always open for requests, and if a deejay can’t find what you’re looking for that moment, they’ll look again, or turn to the Internet.
“Sometimes we don’t realize the treasure that something is until it’s gone. I cannot imagine Bath County without a radio station right now. Not only has the physical structure grown, but the scope of what it can offer to the community has grown.”
Allegheny Mountain Radio has a website and a Facebook page, both of which are direct ways for the AMR communities to give feedback to the stations. Many listeners only get Allegheny Mountain Radio on line, including some in hard to reach corners of Highland County.
Mrs. Lyle described further the network of stations:
“A jewel, valuable, should never be replaced. No matter what technology brings to our world in the next decade, there will always be the need to hear the human voice.
And I hope I’m around the next time they have the celebration, and I’ll think of some other things that we can share.” Allegheny Mountain Radio will continue to welcome those stories, and especially more thoughts for programming which is “unique by nature, traditional by choice.”
Jane Lyle concluded.
“I just hope that everyone who is listening realizes there is something they can do for the station even if they’re not up there volunteering; they may not be a deejay, but money talks too, so good luck, and everybody pitch in and help.”