The first commercial radio station broadcast was live on Nov. 2, 1920. KDKA out of Pittsburgh, PA announced the election returns from the Warren G. Harding vs. James Cox bid for the Presidency. This moment represents the birth of an industry and for some, the beginning of a lifelong fascination with the magical connection to voices over the airwaves.
There are about 44,000 radio stations worldwide now. In the United States, 15,445 stations are commercial and 3,989 are listed as non-commercial. Almost all of the non-commercial stations, excluding the religious ones, are affiliated with a larger corporate entity such as National Public Radio (NPR). Nestled in the quiet town of Sergeantsville, in a corner of Western New Jersey, you will find WDVR 89.7 on your dial, a local, community-based radio station. WDVR is a bit of a unicorn. They are an independent, non-affiliated radio station that provides a mix of music and education without any corporate interference.
Raised on Radio
WDVR began as the dream of Frank & Ginny Napurano. The Napurano’s love of music and community led them to host country music shows on the radio. Meanwhile, Charles Loughery, later to become a Trustee of WDVR, had been on his own radio journey. Loughery was always fascinated by radio. Ever since he was a child, he was intrigued by the fact that sound converted to waves and signals that could somehow travel through the air – radio can go places we can’t reach physically.
While attending William Tennent Senior High School, the school acquired a radio station. Loughery was quick to sign on to work behind the scenes at the station. When in 1980 the school decided to close the station down, Loughery, then just in college, went before the Board of Education and presented his proposal to make the station a 501C3 non-profit. To this day the station still exists and Loughery is still an active Board Member and Officer. It is one of his proudest moments; and was an education in the business of radio.
In the Beginning
Loughery went on to work at New Jersey Public Broadcasting Television (NJN) in engineering roles. Around 1985 while Frank was doing his radio show and thinking about starting a radio station, Charlie, with his knowledge of the FCC and how to establish radio licenses, met and the air began to change. Initially, Frank was looking at commercial stations. Charlie suggested he try for a non-commercial license and helped Frank secure 89.7. The FCC strictly regulates frequencies and everything on the dial below 92 is designated non-commercial.
Frank and Charlie secured the frequency and the license from the FCC in the late 1980’s. Frank had an old Blacksmith’s building in Sergeantsville, just across the street from the Sergeantsville Inn, one of the oldest restaurants in New Jersey. They scrounged for used equipment like a teenage garage band. They put a notice in the local paper saying they were looking for volunteers and on the first day twenty people were lined up outside the door. WDVR went live on the air on Feb. 19, 1990.
For twenty-five years Frank and Ginny actively ran the station. In addition to serving as President and General Manager, Frank hosted numerous shows varying from traditional county to the big band sound. Ginny was by his side as Operations Manager and led some talk show conversations. At one point the station owned a church down the road where they hosted craft shows and live country music over the airwaves. Frank is gone seven years now, and Ginny twelve. Their presence is still felt in the station and Frank’s picture hangs proudly in the lobby.
The Spirit of Radio
The heart of WDVR is the volunteers. Some of the volunteers have been with the station 30 years; average volunteer tenure is fifteen years. The mission of the station is to provide high quality non-commercial educational radio service to Delaware and Lehigh Valley area of Western New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania. There’s an eclectic mix of country, jazz, bluegrass, rock and everything in between musically. The talk shows range from segments on local arts, farm markets, author interviews and just about any other small niche interest you can think of. Here you can find a safe meeting place for an exchange of ideas and interests. WDVR gets its funding from two public on-air fund drives each year and local business sponsorships.
Don’t Mess with the Radio
The music scene has gone through evolutions and radio has been declared “dead” on more than one occasion. The advent of MTV didn’t put an end to the industry. CD’s and paid streaming services have not stopped the power of radio. There’s a reason we keep tuning in. Streaming services provide music, usually we flock to the familiar as creatures of habit. Radio is so much more than just music. It’s the voice in the dark as we’re driving home at night reassuring us, we’re not alone. It’s the person introducing us to new artists we have never heard of before. It’s someone opening the line for questions after hearing an educational program. A non-affiliated radio station has the freedom to play whatever music they want and to program community interest shows that are of interest in their own particular community. This is something the folks at WDVR are most proud of.
WDVR is unique in that its programming is not dictated by what sells. They play things on the air you can’t hear anywhere else. They are an integral part of the community and they fill a void. In 2020 they stopped reporting world news as they found even that was too divisive. The station is a calming place; a place where everyone is welcome. Listening is as easy as going to their website and logging in.
I Can’t Live Without My Radio
The magic of radio is that it is both local and global. It crosses borders and oceans with impunity. With WDVR now being streamed, you never know who could be listening. At any given moment, there are at least one hundred listeners in distant places listening to the voice of the DJ in Sergeantsville, New Jersey. Listeners have been recorded on every continent and as far as Africa and even in war-torn Ukraine. That’s the power of radio.
You can make a playlist. You can subscribe to whatever service you like. This is just music – it’s not engaged and it’s not radio. It’s the difference between background music in the supermarket and a concert – it’s the human connection. Radio is live, vibrant, active and always there for you. It’s the reason WDVR has managed to not only stay on the air for thirty-two years, but also thrive as a non-affiliated, non-commercial radio station.