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Remember WAGE? Well, The Station It Became Has Just Been Sold...

If you’ve been around Loudoun County for any length of time and followed local radio, you may find this a bit interesting.

It comes from website www.dcrtv.com, and notes that “Herndon-based Potomac Radio Group is buying WCRW, 1190, in Leesburg and WUST, 1120, Washington, from Falls Church-based Potomac Radio.” Selling price for each was $750,000.

If you ever followed the escapades of Leesburg’s WAGE, that station eventually became WCRW. Potomac Radio purchased WAGE, promising to keep it local, but ended up combining it with another station they owned so they could up the power and create a 50,000-watt powerhouse AM signal. The company had owned the 1190 frequency, and WAGE was on 1200, so one of them had to go. They were combined into the 1190 frequency.

To get the tower approval to up the power to 50,000 watts, these owners again had to persuade the community they would continue with local programming, which they did. But shortly after they got the approval they had long wanted, they abandoned those notions and became a brokered station for China Radio International. Such brokered programming is exactly what their other station – WUST 1120 – did. It was if that had been their plan from the very beginning.

The reason for the sale now is obvious. The owner of the company died in June of 2015, and the contract with China Radio International, according to DCRTV, is due to expire at the end of the year. The station would almost have to start over from scratch in terms of format and revenue stream, which usually makes the conditions right to sell to somebody else and let them come up with a new plan.  

It brings to a close a long and interesting chapter in local radio that I had a front row seat for, having been WAGE’s General Manager for about a year and a half before all this happened. Not familiar with WAGE? Well, here is something I wrote about them on their 50th anniversary back in 2008:

Yesterday marked an anniversary that I doubt anyone in Loudoun County noticed.

But 50 years ago to the day, Loudoun County got its first and only radio station. On March 6, 1958, WAGE signed on in Leesburg at 1290 on the AM dial. Engineer John Gill had received a telegram in the middle of the previous night, granting approval to broadcast. His voice, testing the WAGE equipment, was the first heard on the station.

Soon afterward, Ed Meyer took the microphone, and was WAGE’s first radio personality. He would later go on to WMAL, working with the likes of local broadcast legends like Harden and Weaver. Following Meyer would be a cast of thousands who got their start in broadcasting; some stayed for only a cup of coffee, while others were addicted with radio the rest of their lives.

A few years later in the mid-1960s, a young man named Bill Torrey would come to work at WAGE. He had a talkative and impulsive little brother named Paul. At the age of 10, Paul followed his big brother around the radio station, and picked up the addiction. On Jan. 6, 1971, at the ripe old age of 14, Paul did his first on-air show for the station. Paul and WAGE would forever be joined in the memory of a lot of Loudoun County folks over the next three decades, as the notion of one without the other seemed unthinkable.

If you weren’t careful, you might not even notice Bill and Paul were brothers, as they did not share the same last name. Bill’s father had been killed in a tragic car crash when he was little; his mother moved the family from New Jersey back to Loudoun County soon afterward and would eventually remarry. They welcomed a son into the world, but instead of Torrey, this son’s last name was Draisey.

Paul Draisey and I have worked Comcast high school broadcasts together for the past two years, and he’s become a close friend. He is WAGE. From 1971 until last April, when the owners of the station eliminated most of its staff and replaced all of its programming with network feeds, Paul had either been on the air, or not far from it, just about all the time.

WAGE has seen it all. It has played rock and roll, country, news, talk, just about everything. It’s been the place where everyone used to turn at the first hint of a snowflake, where they got their local news, and where they got their local sports. High school football and basketball, for the majority of those 50 years, have been broadcast live on WAGE, and if a team made the playoffs, you didn’t have to wonder who won. Odds are, WAGE was airing it.

No more. WAGE has no staff, other than board operators and a salesman. They read local headlines off local news websites from a studio in Falls Church. They picked up some high school football games last fall, but didn’t’ do any basketball this season. This year’s Dulles District tournament, for the first time in memory, had no live radio.

It’s doubtful that will change in the future. Radio has changed, and many stations are struggling. There was a time, for example, when people listened to radio in their homes. In my house alone, you can choose from cable, satellite TV, satellite radio, high speed internet, an Ipod with every song I’ve ever liked in my life on it, a CD player or DVD player for your diversion. AM radio is pretty much the domain of the clock radio first thing in the morning, or in the car. And cell phones eat into a lot of that car time.

But in its day, WAGE was that good friend you’d known for years. Not much to look at, but reliable and always there when you were in need. Paul tells many a story of folks who called the station seeking help for everything from “when is my power coming back on?” to “can you help me find my dog?”

One day last year, power knocked WAGE off the air, and as then-operations manager Chris King was trying to sort things out, some stranger walked into the control room and asked if everyone was OK. “Used to happen all the time,” Paul said. “People cared.”

So happy belated birthday, WAGE. You finally made it to the big 5-0.

Rest in peace.

 

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Saturday, 24 August 2019

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