North Carolina Radio History
6:30 am
Fri April 4, 2014

Celebrating Ralph Epperson, WPAQ And 'The Voice Of The Blue Ridge'

Ralph Epperson, founder of WPAQ. Photographed 07/20/05.
Ralph Epperson, founder of WPAQ. Photographed 07/20/05.
Credit Megan Morr / Winston-Salem Journal

This weekend people in Surry County remember a radio pioneer and North Carolina broadcasting legend, Ralph Epperson. A special WPAQ broadcast of the long-running "Merry Go-Round" program and a screening of "Broadcast - A Man and A Dream" documentary are scheduled for Saturday morning and afternoon at The Earle Theater in Mount Airy, NC.

WPAQ - "The Voice of the Blue Ridge"

Since sign-on on February 2, 1948, at 740 kHz on the AM radio dial in Mount Airy, listeners in and around Surry County, NC, have tuned in to the "WPAQ - Voice of the Blue Ridge."

Working at WPAQ was 'like walking into another era' - Paul Brown, former NPR newscaster who worked at WPAQ in the 1980s

The station was the dream of Epperson. He wanted to provide an outlet and voice for people in Northwest North Carolina and Southwestern Virginia. He also wanted to preserve musical genres that were fast fading from or underplayed on the radio. For Epperson this meant old-time music and fiddle tunes, bluegrass, and big band music that he and the staff would  feature alongside regional Christian preachers and obituaries. The emphasis was always on the local and regional.

WPAQ-AM station logo
WPAQ-AM station logo
Credit WPAQ

Every week from the start, the station featured scores of local musicians, community events and announcements: all the other characteristics that were once a part of thousands of community-focused rural radio stations scattered across the nation. All this was under the direction of Epperson. He also started a weekly Saturday program called the "Merry Go-Round," featuring music played live on the radio. That program is still on the air today.  You can think of it as sort of a Surry County version of "A Prairie Home Companion."

WUNC's Jessica Jones profiled the "Merry Go-Round" on All Things Considered in 2010:

Rembering Epperson: "Broadcast - The Man And His Dream" And A Special "Merry Go-Round"

Epperson died May 31, 2006, but the station continues on to this day in much the same way Epperson envisioned it from the start: with a prime focus on reflecting a vision of the community back to its listeners. April 5, 2014, is the 93rd birth anniversary of Ralph Epperson. Folks in Surry County are commentating the date with a special event on Saturday.

'Broadcast - A Man and His Dream'
'Broadcast - A Man and His Dream'

The event takes place in a theater, The Earle, where the weekly WPAQ "Merry Go-Round" now is staged. The broadcast moved from the WPAQ studios to a downtown theater after the broadcast outgrew the cramped quarters in the studios at WPAQ, studios that were built by Epperson and his father. (They also constructed the tower that transmits the signal.) Organizers will  screen a documentary about Epperson, "Broadcast - A Man and His Dream."  at 2 p.m. It follows a special 11 a.m. "Merry Go-Round" hosted by his son, Kelly Epperson. Kelly Epperson now manages and runs WPAQ.

  • When: Saturday April 5, 2014, 2-3 p.m. (film); 11a.m. - 1 p.m. (Merry Go-Round)
  • Where: The Earle, Mount Airy, NC
  • Phone: 336-786-2222

Watch a movie trailer for the documentary:
 

WUNC Connections With Epperson And WPAQ

There are some WUNC connections to WPAQ and its founder. We've combed through our archives here at WUNC and here's what we found:
 

Ralph Epperson with Melinda Penkava on The State of Things in June 2005:

In 1988, WUNC's Aviva Enoch and music scholar and historian Jack Bernhardt created a radio documentary about WPAQ:

Paul Brown spoke with Frank Stasio on The State of Things about Ralph Epperson the day after his death in 2006:

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