On Thursday, McDowell County’s long-time radio station WBRM AM 1250 celebrated 70 years of broadcasting music, news, sports and community announcements with a big party complete with fun, fellowship and food.
And along with looking back over the past 70 years, came a big announcement about the station’s future. Owner Annette Bryant announced WBRM will now broadcast in FM as well as AM. At Thursday’s celebration, she kicked off the FM portion of her station.
“Ladies and gentlemen, WBRM is now on the FM dial at 103.9,” said Bryant to the crowd of local officials, civic leaders and current and former employees of the radio station.
WBRM can still be heard on AM at 1250 as well as FM 103.9.
On Thursday, WBRM hosted a 70th anniversary celebration at the Marion Community Building. The plan originally was to hold it at the parking lot of the station on North Garden Street but the location was changed to the Community Building in order to accommodate everyone.
Bryant chose this occasion to publicly announce and inaugurate the new FM service for her station, which has quietly been in the works for three years now.
“It has been a work in progress,” she said to the crowd.
This became possible because of a “window of opportunity” from the Federal Communications Commission which allowed AM stations to do FM also. Bryant talked about how county officials worked with her so an FM transmitter can be added to the local communications tower.
“We’re so happy for her,” said Commission Chairman David Walker. “We’re looking forward to the next 25 years with you. We’re just so proud of WBRM. It’s all about keeping everyone informed.”
“What a delight it is to congratulate Annette and WBRM,” said Mayor Steve Little.
The new FM signal can be heard along Interstate 40 from Old Fort Mountain all the way to Valdese, Bryant said.
“Radio has played an important part in my life,” said Bryant to The McDowell News. “There have been exciting moments, rewarding moments, frightening moments and so many small rewarding moments. I look forward every morning to going to work.
“Through the years we have tried to be responsive to the community’s needs and provide a constant, reliable source of information, news, sports and entertainment.”
As WBRM looks back over the past 70 years, McDowell’s own radio station is also looking to a new and different future.
“Seventy years is a long time,” said Bryant to The McDowell News. “I hope there are many more good years ahead of us. We look forward to this new FM service and the advantages it will bring to our audience. Good reception at night has been impossible until now. With the FM, it is a reality.”
All the programming will remain the same but it will now be available in both frequencies.
“We are the same station, but now have the ability to broadcast on both the AM and FM channels,” said Bryant to The McDowell News. “One big advantage is if either transmitter goes out, we can continue to broadcast on the other transmitter. In other words, if the power goes out at the AM transmitter, we can still broadcast on the FM transmitter. Each backs up the other."
It has been quite a journey since WBRM first signed on the air May 9, 1949 with 1,000 watts of power. The original studios were located at 13 ½ W. Court St. in Marion while the tower and transmitted were located on Greenlee Road in the Pleasant Gardens community, according to Bryant.
The major stockholder was Will Erwin and the first general manager was Jack Reynolds. The first secretary was Jessee Reynolds and the first announcer was Syd Carrigan. They all remained with the station until it was sold in July 1976. The first engineer was Hubert Martin, who remained with WBRM until his death.
On July 1, 1976, James B. Childress of Sylva purchased WBRM. David Wright was named the general manager, Bill Effronsen was named the sales manager. Chuck Finley and John Robert Taylor were the first announcers and Annette Bryant was starting as a salesperson/announcer.
On July 12, 1976, the new WBRM went on the air with an adult contemporary format. The studios remained at 13 ½ W. Court St. until October 1976 when they were moved to the transmitter building on Greenlee Road. That building was converted to a studio and a mobile home was used as an office. This arrangement was not satisfactory and ceased on June 6, 1978 when the new studio and office was occupied at 137 N. Garden St. WBRM has remained there ever since but the address is now 147 N. Garden St.
In May 1982, WBRM increased its power to 5,000 watts and in January 1988, the station’s format was changed to all country.
On Dec. 1, 1988, Bryant purchased WBRM and is the sole stockholder. The studio and the office can be easily found at 147 N. Garden and the tower and transmitter are now located on a four-acre site on Roby Conley Road in Marion.
The new WBRM will become the first FM station in McDowell County since WDLF (104.3). In October 1991, WDLF in Old Fort went on the air with a soft adult contemporary format. The station was known as “Delightful 104.” The studios were actually located in Marion in the building that is now Mica Town Brewing. In the late 1990s, that station was moved to Asheville and eventually became WQNQ or Star 104.3, according to online sources.