Some wore their dancing shoes, some waited hours in the cold, at least one brought his own musical spoons, but they all came prepared to have a good time at WPAQ’s 70th birthday party.
Some bluegrass and old-time fans arrived for the concert at the Earle Theater as early as 3:30 p.m. for the 5:15 concert. Paul and Jackie Ouellette of Hendersonville were first in line, coming back to the annual birthday party for a second time after enjoying themselves last year.
Judy Tucker and Jackie Dollyhite were next in line. They also came to last year’s birthday celebration.
Dollyhite said, “I like old-time music. My daddy played the banjo, but all I can play is the radio.”
Before the show began, Kelly Epperson, owner and manager of WPAQ, said, “There will be dancing and clapping and singing along. There may even be some crying. We’ll have some sad songs and some happy songs.”
Epperson said the toughest decision was deciding which bands would come and play. Seven groups were selected: The Zephyr Lightning Bolts, Rich In Tradition, Mickey Galyean & Cullen’s Bridge, The Slate Mountain Ramblers, The Country Boys, Narrow Road, and The Nunn Brothers.
“It’s such a hard decision. I wish we had enough time for everybody to come and play, but it’s impossible to do that. In years to come, maybe we can broaden the number of bands and add some more.”
“I’m so grateful to the bands that come,” said Epperson. “They come out of the goodness of their hearts. They come here for love of the community and for love of the radio station. We’re all here to entertain. That’s what we do.”
WPAQ news and sportscaster Mark Brown emceed the show, introducing Mayor David Rowe after an opening set by bluegrass band Rich in Tradition, and the mayor read a proclamation honoring WPAQ for 70 years of service to Mount Airy.
The first big WPAQ birthday party was in 1998 when the station turned 50. The station’s founder, Ralph Epperson, was still alive then, and that year also marked the return to downtown Mount Airy of the station’s long-running live show, “The Merry-Go-Round.”
The show had broadcast from another downtown movie theater, The Pick Theater, for a number of years, according to Epperson, after starting out at the radio station’s studio and then returning there after leaving the Pick.
“We could handle quite a few people at the station,” said Epperson. “They could watch through the glass from the lobby. And some people would just wander in where they were recording. But it got to where the musicians couldn’t get in.”
Epperson points to the sign above the stage that reads, “Welcome to the Merry-Go-Round,” and said, “That’s based on the original sign from 1948. It was re-created when Merry-Go-Round moved to the Earle Theater in 1998.”
A 60th birthday party was held in 2008, and a 65th five years later. Epperson said, “I thought, we can do this once a year.” And they have.
With Surry Arts Council as a partner and local businesses as sponsors, the station has had a birthday party every year since.
“It’s our birthday, but this is our gift to our listeners,” said Epperson. “We are so very thankful for all those who take part and for all the listeners who have supported us for so long.”