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Wise County radio station celebrates 60

Stephen Igo • Aug 29, 2013 at 9:52 PM

NORTON — Christian radio station WLSD has extended an open invitation to all comers on Friday to help celebrate 60’s radio. That’s years on the air, not musical format.

For six decades the Valley Broadcasting Inc. station has served its loyal listeners through a myriad of changes ranging from a series of locations in Big Stone Gap to a recent move to Norton, as well as going to an all gospel format in the 1980s.

Friday’s Open House from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. will be “a celebration,” said WLSD Manager Willie Stanley. “We’re going to have some singing and food and fun.” The event will be at the Virginia-Kentucky Opry, the broadcast performing stage located directly across from The Coalfield Progress on Park Avenue, the station now sharing quarters with Norton station WAXM.

Until earlier this year, WLSD had a variety of quarters in Big Stone Gap before making the move to Norton. Some things haven’t changed, though. Even though the WLSD studio is now in Norton, it is still licensed in Big Stone Gap. The call letters, by the way, are a take on Wise, Lee, Scott and Dickenson counties.

“We’ve been several places. The last place in Big Stone Gap was on Holton Avenue. We’ve been downtown (Big Stone Gap), just several places there. Of course, the tower’s still on Maple’s Gap (near Big Stone Gap) and we’re still a 1,000-watt AM station,” Stanley said.

Stanley has managed WLSD since Jan. 3, 1988. A native of Pound who graduated from Pound High School in 1985, and a longtime Coeburn resident, Stanley said he didn’t know he was going into radio until he did.

“I had no clue,” he said of his start with the station. “The Lord just opened the door and we came through it.”

The station has a small but dedicated staff, including Rick Phillips, WLSD’s program director who also serves as the pastor of Deep Spring Baptist Church in Seminary, and for 45 of the last 60 years, production manager Paul Miller who tosses in weather, news and sports along with his other duties.

Alan Collier handles the station’s advertising accounts, Adam Sturgill is the engineer who proved invaluable moving the studio from Big Stone Gap to Norton this past April, and sisters Melinda and Geneva Church serve as disc jockeys.

Except there aren’t any discs to jockey any longer, of course. But the sister duo DJs follow in the footsteps of their late father, Ray Church, who passed away last year, having manned the WLSD mic from 1994 practically until the day he died.

“We watched these two girls grow up,” Stanley said, motioning to Ray’s beaming daughters. Ray Church was “part of us,” he said. “He would have stayed 24 hours a day if you let him. He loved it.”

“Besides these girls,” chimed Sturgill, “this station was his life.”

Before the change to a Christian gospel format, WLSD went through a variety of format evolutions.

“Lord, they played everything back in the day,” Stanley said. “Rock ’n’ roll, country, whatever. Back in the old school we had to run FM and AM on the same board, so they’d run rock ’n’ roll on one line and gospel on the other, so it’s been interesting.”

Technology has had its inevitable impact over the years.

“Lord, it’s all changed. I remember when we had cards and reel-to-reels. Even CDs are old now, though. Analog to digital. Computers are running everything now. Facebook, web this and cyber that. It’s crazy,” Stanley said. “I couldn’t have told you how they did it in the beginning (before Stanley came aboard) but I’m sure it was interesting.”

Being on the air for 60 years is a milestone the station wanted to share with the community, he added.

“We thank the Lord he’s allowed us to be on the air for 60 years and serve folks,” he said. “We have fine, loyal listeners. The problem is, we’re getting older.”

That’s the point of celebrating, though. Getting older is way better than not.

“Everybody’s invited to our Open House,” Stanley said. “We want everyone to come for some fellowship and fun.”

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