WFAE worth of support

The shows change over the years, but not where I park my tuner

Daniel Caton

Special to The Observer

Published: Thurday, March 28, 2006


About 20 years ago I re-joined the faculty at Appalachian after a couple of years here and then a year away at another college. I dusted off the equipment at our still new Dark Sky Observatory and began my observing program.

Astronomical observing means long nights often spent alone and, back then, out in the cold. Computer-controlled cameras and telescopes have moved the observer into a comfortable control room, but it is still often a solo flight for the scientist or student at the helm.

But I found an all-night companion early on: the signal from WFAE, that wonderful National Public Radio station in Charlotte. I still have the index card I posted on the bulletin board: “WFAE 90.7 – all night jazz!”.

Long-time fan of NPR

I had already been an NPR fan for a long time, having listened to hours of “All Things Considered” in Tampa while rebuilding a ’65 Corvair. In graduate school in Gainesville I listened to WUFT while observing, especially enjoying the “Art of Song,” narrated by our own crusty old physics professor, Ray Pepinsky. I began the tradition of trying to note down song titles as I thought I heard them, and tracing down the record—no easy task before the age of the Web.

At DSO I continued that activity and adopted the New Age Jazz that my students would disdainfully refer to as “Yuppie Elevator Music.”


Well, the themes have changed but not where I park the tuner—90.7 or their sister Hickory station at 90.3, depending on the gods of the ionosphere and radio waves. I’ve maintained outside antennas, pre-amps and rotators to this day to catch the good vibes after their 80-mile trip to Boone.

I happened to be at DSO on 9/11 and it was WFAE and NPR that kept me informed all night, dusk to dawn, as news unfolded. My only regret was that after sleeping in the next morning and driving back to town, nary a copy of the Charlotte Observer was to be found left on the stands. Big news sells big.

Now, that's wordl-class

Charlotte, which aspires to be “world-class,” has a world-class public station. The internationally-syndicated show “Thistle and Shamrock” began at WFAE. The local call-in show, “Charlotte Talks,” is a refreshing contrast to the hyper-right wing blathering on commercial stations.

WFAE has steadily kept at the cutting edge. I frequently depend on its Webcasting, when the leaves on the trees cut my dB’s of signal, although even at broadband speed, it cannot compete with the fidelity of off-the-air FM.
WFAE is offering HD Radio and podcasting. Old shows of “Charlotte Talks” are streamed online. And, they are developing technology to turn off the radios of non-members.

Just kidding on that last one.

WFAE has gone all talk and I was one of the early, disgruntled members who approached the new format with some trepidation. But now it has grown on me, with the likes of ” Fresh Air” and “Talk of the Nation” (with its Science Fridays!), and BBC overnight.

Garrison Keillor brings comfort-sounds on Saturday evenings—I’ve taped and archived every show for more than 10 years. “Mountain Stage” sounds like Boone’s own local music*. A few years of listening to “Car Talk” will give you everything you need to know about cars and a lot more about life. There is much more—to much to list here. Certainly, something for everybody.

Station needs your help

I write this because WFAE is entering their fall fundraiser and needs your help. If you are already a supporter then you need to ante up again. If you listen and do not yet support them then come on board!

I know—the endless begging for funds is annoying, especially to those of us who already contribute. But, amortized out over the whole year it is less than the amount of time used for ads on commercial stations. And, on those stations you have to listen to that every day and every hour.

If you’ve not experienced NPR then you don’t know what you’re missing. Tune to the lower end of the dial where the FCC has carved a home for public stations. We public radio fans have a saying: there is no life above 93 Megahertz.

I write this from the Observatory on a Sunday evening when the last vestiges of ‘space music’ is still heard on WFAE, starting with Nelson May’s “Nightscapes” and ending with “Echoes.” The night is clear, the stars are out and music fills the air.

As they would say up here, “it don’t get no better than that!”

*My bad! I was thinking of WETS when I wrote about Mountain Stage. I listen to that NPR station as well.