worth of support
The shows change
over the years, but not where I park my tuner
Special to The
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
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
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
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
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!”
bad! I was thinking of WETS when I wrote
about Mountain Stage. I listen to that NPR station as well.