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Local radio Its strength lies in its uniqueness

Editor's Note: This is the second of a three-part series on locally owned radio stations.

by Danny Forinash

STAFF WRITER

Although locally owned radio stations face an uphill battle finding listeners and making profit, one advantage it can have is the ability to be unique and stand apart from other stations. WHAW, called by owner Steve Peters "the pulse of Central West Virginia," proves this.

Local radio certainly seems to be at a disadvantage when most of its competitors are giant stations that have out-of-town owners, access to a magnitude of listeners and quite a bit of money. WHAW owner Steve Peters admits that local stations are "little tiny drops of water" in a world of great lakes, but bases the quality of a station not on its size, but rather its content.

"It's all about being interesting and how you present," says Peters, who purchased the station with his partner in life, Della Jane Woofter, after it went bankrupt in 1997. "That's how you get people to listen. It's a medium of entertainment, that's all."

WHAW 980 AM in Weston, dubbed "redneck public radio" by Peters, broadcasts a mix of old and new country, mostly old, received by satellite. But the station has a wide variety of programs to offer its listeners.

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the station airs a talk show called "Five Alive" at 5 p.m. The show is hosted by staff member Terry Mathew with help on Mondays by Matthew Farley and on Wednesdays and Fridays by former Steven Spielberg Productions employee Brenda Reed.

"Five Alive" features a variety of guests and topics and has been concentrating recently on the saga of Franz Anthoefer, who claims that his father was a former mayor of Weston and that he should be granted United States citizenship.

Anthoefer, via telephone, will be a guest on the show in three weeks.

Peters says he has a news story about Anthoefer that is written in French and welcomes anyone who can read French to come on the show and read the story.

On Saturday mornings, the station airs "Saturday Morning Swap Shop," on which conversation with special guests is mixed in with callers trading various items on the air. Much of the conversing is between guests, many of whom are politicians, and callers. The guests have to be ready for just about anything, as comments are not blocked or controlled by WHAW. "Radio doesn't lie," says Peters. "The listeners know when you are and aren't telling the truth on radio."

"It's a hobby for me," he says. "There's nothing the Republicans and Democrats can do to me."

Another show on WHAW is "The History of Country Music," which airs Saturdays at 6 p.m. and has featured guests like Patsy Cline's husband, the Walton Family and country songwriter Johnny Russel.

The six part-time volunteers who work without pay at WHAW have freedom when it comes to ideas and initiating those ideas. "The only thing I ask is that they do what they say," says Peters. "Most of us are retired, sittin' back and havin' fun."

And much of the programming on WHAW is what Peters calls "100 percent tongue-in-cheek." For instance, WHAW airs the famous comedy/sci-fi show "Art Bell Coast to Coast" and Art Bell's "Dreamland." Recently, Bell, who operated his show from a trailer in Nevada, and his off-beat sense of humor retired. He was replaced by Whitley Strieber, who claims to have an implant from a UFO.

Playing along with this programming, WHAW often reports on phenomena like the Flatwoods Monster and the Moth Men from Point Pleasant.

WHAW also used to feature a character called Country Bob who was played by the station's chief engineer, Rick Daughetery. Country Bob ran for mayor, nearly winning in Weston, and governor. He debated "actual" politicians and was completely honest with his opinions, which gave the character a sense of integrity and humor at the same time.

"People loved him and people hated him," says Peters.

Sadly, Daughetery died last month. "Two people were taken with one blow -- both Rick and Bob," says Peters.

During the daytime, WHAW delivers 1,000 watts that can reach out to areas from Fairmont to Glenville and beyond. Way beyond, as a matter of fact. At night, WHAW only broadcasts with 50 watts, but Peters calls them the "most powerful 50 watts in the world" because his station can be heard through the Internet at whawradio.com -- which means WHAW can be heard all over the world. Peters says that the Web site gets about 7,000 to 9,000 hits per day and that they have gotten responses about the programming from Thailand and China.

But in a new, modern world of media giants, mammoth mergers and radio powerhouses, can one little, locally owned radio station survive and keep up when the bottom line, advertising dollars and listenership have to be considered?

"There's no doubt it'll go on," Peters says of local radio. "Radio stations only give up when their owners give up, and I ain't done playin' yet."

Staff writer Danny Forinash can be reached at 626-1446.

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