At noon on Saturday, May 4, 1957, Franklin residents gathered around their radios and turned the dial to 1050 for the very first time to listen to the launch of WFSC-AM. Last Friday, 55 years to the day that Franklin's First Voice got its start, the power switch was flipped and for the first time, the radio station could be heard from down in Clayton to Waynesville and even parts of Pigeon Forge.
Just in time to celebrate WFSCAM's 55th birthday, the radio station completed a nearly three-year process of upgrading the station’s frequency to 5,000 watts in order to provide a clearer signal to reach a wider audience. After the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) granted WFSC permission to expand to 5,000 watts in late 2009, station employees began the process of upgrading the system, which officially went live last Friday morning.
“The greatest benefit of expanding to 5,000 watts is to reach more people and to improve the coverage that was already out there,” said Sean Gibson, vice-president and general manager of WFSC-AM Radio. “Before, there were areas in Nantahala that could pick up the station, but it would have a lot of static, now they can hear it clear and can hear it indoors or if they are driving around in their cars.”
According to Gibson, the upgrade allows Franklin’s First Voice to be picked up in Cullowhee and around Western Carolina University, parts of Asheville, and just south in Clayton. The expansion opens doors for an economic boost by offering a venue for advertisers to reach listeners in surrounding counties and throughout Macon County. “I think it will definitely have an economic benefit because of a growth in advertisers,” said Gibson.
To help celebrate the 55th birthday, famous voices that have been heard over the airwaves in past years came together for the first time to share stories of their experience with the radio station. Harold Corbin, the very first announcer for the radio station shared with listeners how the station has changed. “When we first started, we had a lot of politicians on the air and we played mostly country and gospel music,” said Corbin.
Other voices from the past could be hear last Friday included Randy Raby, who worked with the station from 1970 until 1993 as a morning announcer and Ronnie Evans who worked at the station from 1967 until 1975.
How it all began
Three South Carolina businessmen, Henry Bartol, Jr., Graves Taylor and John Boyd, teamed up to apply for a license from the FCC to start a 500 watt radio station in Franklin. After being granted the license, WFSC became the first broadcast station to operate west of Waynesville. The station’s call letters were formed after boasts were made of coverage into seven counties and the station was deemed, “With Friends in Seven Counties,” or WFSC.
The very first broadcast took place from the Noetel Building and included interviews from prominent citizens and politicians, country and gospel music, and taped recordings from local high school bands. A 204- foot steel tower was constructed off Lake Emory Road, and at the time stood as the tallest man made structure in Macon County.
According to Gibson, People’s on Main Street in Franklin, opened its doors at 9 a.m. on Friday May 4, 1957. “It is really neat because we went on air the same day they opened,” said Gibson. “They were one of our first two advertisers and have advertised with us for the past 55 years.”
Edwin P. Healy served as the station's first general manager, and remained with WFSC for 21 years. The station's first staff included announcers Harold Corbin, Dave Hogan, and Jack, “Red” Nichols, secretary Jo Ann Hopkins, and consulting engineer Palmer Greer. Nancy Powell later served as the station's first woman announcer.
In order to provide listeners with a balanced program schedule, the station began airing services from local Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian and Episcopal churches, and sportscasts which included play-by-play accounts of all-day games of the Brooklyn Dodgers with “Red” Barber at the microphone. The regular weekly schedule included programs such as “Mountain Country Jubilee,” “Hymns of Hills,” “The Dinner Bell Program,” “The Good Neighbor Show,” and “Teenage Platter Party.”
After having an exceptionally successful first year, the FCC granted WFSC permission to expand to 1,000 watts allowing the station to reach an even broader audience. After two years of broadcasting from the Noetel Building, the station moved to a new facility with a 13-acre tower site on Radio Hill right off of Lake Emory Road.
WFSC-FM was added in 1965, and became the first FM radio station west of Hendersonville. With the addition of the nighttime service, residents throughout Macon County were able to begin hear live play-by-play sportscasting of local high school games with announcer Phil Frady.
In February of 1971, the station went off the air for about a month after being struck by lightning.
In 1978, two of the station's original owners, Taylor and Bartol had passed away and their wives decided to put the station up for sale. Statesville Broadcasting Company, Inc of Statesville, NC purchased WFSC-AM and FM and changed the FM station’s call letters to WRFR-RM and was found on the FM dial at 96.7. After the Statesville company's owner decided to retire in 1984, the station was purchased by High County Communications Group from Florence, S.C.
In 1985, WRFR-FM purchased new equipment to become stereophonic. The format was then changed to adult contemporary or soft rock music and The Associated Press News Service was added to both stations.
After the principal stockholder of High County Communications Group passed away in 1987, Franklin residents Brenda Wooten and Jo Zachary paired up to form Cross County Communications, Inc. to purchase the radio station in 1987, marking the first and only time the radio station was under local ownership.
In 1993, the radio station was instrumental in providing live coverage of the great snow storm of ’93. During the blizzard, the station's DJ and engineer Rick Cruse worked many hours straight to provide storm updates while only having a snack machine as his food supply.
The radio station switched ownership again in June of 1999 after Cross County Communications Inc. was dissolved. The station was then purchased by Gordon Van Mol of Athens, Ga. Along with numerous upgrades, WRFR's call letters were once again changed this time to WNCC-FM for “Western North Carolina County.”
In December of 2001, Van Mol sold the station to Art Sutton of Sutton Radiocasting Corporation of Toccoa, Ga., who owns the station today.
The station currently has five full time employees and four part time staff members. The office manager, Benita Snyder, serves as the longest tenured employee and has worked at Franklin's radio station for 30 years.
“The main reason that WFSC has been so successful is because of the folks who laid the groundwork and made it a goal to build the station as a community-involved project,” said Gibson. Because of their hardwork and dedication to the community, WFSC has had a successful 55-year run so far, and we are looking forward to another 55 years.”