Gardner-Webb’s radio station, 88.3 WGWG, which has been broadcasting on the air for the last four decades, will be selling its license and shutting down “within months” because it’s too expensive to stay on the air.
Jeff Powell, a graduate of Gardner-Webb and current manager of WGWG, has announced that the station will transition to an online operation, which is a much less expensive endeavor. The staff will shrink to one full-time employee (Powell) and become student-run. “We rely on our community volunteers as well as our students,” Powell says.
In part of becoming strictly online, Powell has ideas of turning WGWG into block programming. “For example,” he says, “we can record the five o’clock news, and if you miss five o’clock, well, you can listen to it anytime!” Music, sports, news, and weather will be accessible through archived audio and podcasts.
WGWG, which stands for “Watch Gardner-Webb Grow,” existed on campus as a “radio club” prior to going on air in 1974. They went from broadcasting through an electrical system to a 5,000 watt tower which permitted them to reach all of Cleveland County. In 1998, WGWG increased its wattage to 50,000, allowing the station to reach sixteen counties in the Carolinas.
Powell explains that the prospect of selling the station license and frequency has been talked about for years. He explains that “it’s harder for a standalone station to afford to operate in this environment.” He began working at WGWG as a student work-study employee in 1984. After graduation, he was promoted to a part-time employee and later became a full-time employee in 1999. Powell left WGWG in 2002 but returned in 2005 and has been working full-time since.
Many colleges have shut down and sold radio stations due to the change in the economy while others have transitioned to being strictly online. “This is what we’re looking to do,” Powell says. “The costs and regulatory burden is much less. Just as newspapers have transitioned online, radio must do the same.”
WGWG has been streaming on the internet for fifteen years through an accessible “Listen Live” link. Powell clarifies that “being online is nothing new for us, but we’re going to beef it up and make it our only means of broadcasting. It takes us from a sixteen county broadcast to literally worldwide.”
Powell acknowledges that it will probably only be a matter of months before a sale is completed. Until then, he explains that “we’ve been working to retool our broadcast to make it more of a laboratory and hands-on experience for students.” They will gain public speaking training along with audio editing, voiceovers, and board operational skills.
WGWG currently has sixteen students actively involved at the station, including two who have designed and launched their own specialty shows. With the changes going on at WGWG, Powell can only see these numbers expanding.
“We grow from where we are now,” he says. “We’re open to everyone helping out. All students are welcome, regardless of major.” Options available to students include volunteer work, a one-hour Applied Radio course, work-study positions, and internships.
When reflecting on how far WGWG has come in the last forty years, Powell announces, “We’re proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish.” WGWG has raised a considerable amount of its operational expenses through underwritings. They’ve been part of events from Nashville to Merlefest and have been compared to well-recognized radio stations.
“I think we’ve reflected very well on Gardner-Webb University,” Powell says. “I’m proud of what we’ve done – I’m going to miss some of it – but I’m eager to get onto this next phase. I’m looking forward to working with the students and getting more involvement, gaining that hands-on experience that we can offer.”