Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
WFMV was the callsign for an FM broadcast radio station in Richmond, Virginia from 1961-1971. One of the most favorably equipped of Virginia's early FM stations, it was Virginia's first station to broadcast in stereo. WFMV had a fine music (classical) format throughout its existence, as well as a small, but loyal and influential listener group.
New owners changed the format and callsign around 1971. However, groups of listeners and employees followed the station (or at least its music library and format) through 2 changes to its current place on a non-commercial frequency as WCVE-FM, a NPR affiliate. (The former WFMV callsign was later reassigned by the FCC to an FM station in South Carolina).
History: Virginia's first stereo radio station
New technology was added to FM radio in the early 1960s to allow FM stereo transmissions, where the frequency modulated radio signal is used to carry stereophonic sound, using the pilot-tone multiplex system. WFMV was the first radio station in Virginia to broadcast in multiplex stereo. At 103.7 MHz, it was licensed for 74,000 watts. The transmitter site which was favorably located on high ground (200 ft above sea level) west of Richmond in the woods off Old Bon Air Road in Chesterfield County near Bon Air had a tower extending another 125' and signals could be heard in Charlottesville, about 70 miles away.
The station went on the air in 1961 and was operated by Professional Broadcasting, Inc. In 1964, Fidelity Bankers Life Insurance Company (founded in Richmond in 1953) bought the station as an investment and moved the studios to their suburban headquarters at Willow Lawn in Henrico County. For a time, it was co managed with WGOE, a 1000 watt AM daytime station owned by brothers Major and J. Sargeant Reynolds. By 1968, station owners Richmond-based Fidelity Bankers Life Insurance Company had grown to became one of the largest insurance holding companies in the United States, controlling over $4.5 billion of life insurance and assets of over $500 million.
Sold as an investment; spartan operating conditions
In 1969, Fidelity Bankers sold WFMV to Ben Thomas, an investor and a mobile home manufacturer from Greencastle, Pennsylvania. Thomas, who managed the operation from his base in Pennsylvania, relocated the studios into two used office trailers at the rural transmitter site. The remote location was located on a dirt road, essentially an old fire trail, which wound through the woods to reach the site. During rain and snow, it was accessible only by foot.
Thomas had financial problems, and employees, mostly college students, were bolstered by loyal listeners and continued to man the station even when payrolls were late and inclement weather blocked access to the site. Engineering staff from nearby stations, notably the well-funded WRVA ("The 50,000 watt Voice of Virginia"), loaned parts and repair talent to help maintain the aging transmitting equipment. Although privately-owned, WFMV had become something of a community effort.
Save Fine Music and listeners win format retention, changes
In 1971, Thomas sold the station to EZ Communications of Northern Virginia, which operated WEEL (AM) and WEZR (FM) in Manassas. The new owners were anxious to upgrade the equipment and wanted to change the format to turn the finances around, as WFMV Arbitron listener ratings and advertising revenue had each had been very low.
Fearing loss of Richmond's only classical music station, a group of loyal listeners then formed the "Save Fine Music" committee which lobbied the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and EZ Communications to block the transfer and keep the classical format for another year or until arrangements could be made with Union Theological Seminary & Presbyterian School of Christian Education to upgrade their station, WRFK (FM), to take over the format in the community. This was accomplished and EZ Communications donated the WFMV library to WRFK, and changed formats and call sign to become WEZS(FM).
WRFK, long operated by the not-for-profit seminary, was on 106.5 MHz, a commercial frequency. This worked out for a while until a decision was made by the school to sell the increasingly valuable commercial frequency. Another transition was coordinated, this time to a non-commercial frequency operated by the Commonwealth Public Broadcasting Company, the local PBS affiliate which operated WCVE-TV (Channel 23) which was headed by Virginia broadcasting pioneer Ben Spiller. The new station became WCVE-FM at 88.9 MHz, with transmitter, tower, and studios located at the Channel 23/57 complex located at 23 Sesame Street in Bon Air.
The legend of WFMV lives on in Richmond
Grete Dollitz's program, "An Hour With the Guitar" was originally on WFMV. After more than 30 years, is still heard on WCVE-FM, a National Public Radio (NPR) affiliate.
Fisher, Mark D. (2005) A Brief History of WFMV: Virginia's first stereophonic good music station, Richmond Radio Group on Yahoo; Richmond, VA
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