WFTR Turns 75

“Radio station here is expected to open in July”.  That was the headline from an article in a local newspaper in June 1948.  Warren Bell, the station’s first General Manager and Chief Engineer made the announcement that WFTR, a 250 watt AM radio station, would be opening in Front Royal and broadcast from the Sky-Park Building on John Marshall Highway. 

Today, 75 years later, that same building houses that same radio station, with the same call letters (WFTR), on the same AM frequency (1450).  Today, WFTR boasts a 1,000 watt signal power both day and night. 

The stockholders of the original Company, Sky-Park Broadcasting, were mostly local Front Royal citizens.  The local Chamber of Commerce spearheaded the move to petition the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to license a station to the community. 

WFTR’s original affiliations were with the Mutual Broadcasting System, which began providing programming to other stations across the country in 1934.  It was part of the Golden Age of Radio drama broadcasts, carrying such shows as The Shadow, the Lone Ranger and the Adventures of Superman.  National news was provided by the United Press International (UPI).

According to local press reports, WFTR began airing programming at 12:00 noon on Sunday, September 19.  Local officials from Front Royal and Warren County, along with several local civic clubs, were present.  Front Royal Mayor Purdum made the initial opening address. 

The station staff include Warren Bell (General Manager), Roy Springer (Commercial Manager), Robert Martin (Program Director), Sandra Robinson (Traffic Director), announcers Ralph Pennewell and Frank Watkins, and Mac Craighill (Chief Operator).   There were originally 11 staff members at the station, according to a 1948 article in Broadcast magazine. 

 A local programming line-up newspaper ad from 1949 shows the station signing on at 6:30 am with the National Anthem, and signing off at 11 pm, just after headline news and the National Anthem.  (See accompanying picture).  Programming elements of the day included music, local and national news, local program features hosted by various staff and community figures, local church services, and radio dramas.  WFTR billed itself as a full-service radio station. 

Since 1948, thousands of articles, photos and mentions about WFTR and its broadcast connection to the community have been published, either in print, TV, the internet and even other radio stations.  The Virginia Chronicle alone hosts over 3,500 mentions of WFTR.  These articles feature programming notes, news stories and community services performed by the station and its staff.

In June, 1962, WFTR received approval from the FCC to increase its broadcast power from 250 watts to 1,000 watts, non-directional.  This increase permitted greater coverage beyond Warren County’s borders as well as a stronger audience base.  Howard Bell, the vice president of the National Association of Broadcasters, attended the ceremony and was hosted by WFTR General Manager Ken Gordon. 

The Company added a co-owned FM station in 1981, WIVX, also licensed to Front Royal and Warren County.  In 1983, the new station’s call signs were changed to WFTR-FM, and numerous times during the years between 1983 and 2000 both stations aired the same programming, including a wildly successful country format.

In 1991, the station began an affiliation with CNN, as a news source.  AM talk radio, featuring Col. Oliver North, was added to WFTR-AM in the mid 1990’s, due to the growth of the format nationally.  The station’s VP and General Manager was Kemper Miller, who operated Straus’ Virginia stations. 

The most recent ownership change occurred in August, 2000, when Straus Communications received an offer from newly formed Royal Broadcasting, Inc.  Delaware man Andrew Shearer took over operations and began reclaiming the idea of local radio, much as it was envisioned in the early days of the station.

With FM station WFTR (now WZRV), WFTR-AM began a several year transition to find its niche and local appeal.  The addition of a local news presence, more local sports (high school and little league) and the addition of regional sports such as the Washington Nationals and Washington Capitals in 2015 provided WFTR with both a local and regional programming line-up.

WFTR "In the News"