Days Gone By- My 1st Radio Station Bites the Dust
I started my broadcasting career at WAGE-AM Radio in Leesburg, Virginia a little over 32 years ago. I learned recently that last August, it went dark. I felt like a little piece of my life kind of died. Certainly, a piece of Loudoun County died too.
The station had a strong tradition of local news and did remotes at local businesses, covered High School sports, and kept what was then a fairly tight-knit, agricultural community very well informed.
One of our most popular features was the obituaries we read after the local noon news. I remember the time new management rode into town and thought reading the obits was too quaint and tried to kill them. It didn’t last long. The station was overwhelmed with angry complaints. The people of Loudoun County demanded to know which of their neighbors were no longer among the living and that was that.
But you could see the end of WAGE Radio coming like a freight train barreling down the tracks. First, development took its toll and where there were once 63 dairy farms in 1977, there were just three by the turn of the millennium. Houses, McMansions, country clubs, and ribbons of highways and overpasses were testament to the fact Loudoun had turned into one of the fastest growing counties in America.
It also morphed from a community where people said hello, nodded and smiled at one another into another faceless, sprawling Washington suburb. The mom and pop shops that used to advertise on the station gave way to Wal-Mart conglomerates and their ilk.
You gotta laugh
We not only informed the people of Loudoun County, we gave them a few grins too. My favorite blooper was the time an unnamed news anchor, trying to explain the cause of a recent heat wave, pinned the blame on a “stagnant mare’s ass.”
Another anchor, while reading the community events calendar, referred to an appearance at the Sterling Park library by the famous author of the Three Faces of Eve and actually called the book the Three Feces of Eve. I was in the studio at the time and nearly fell to the floor in barely stifled laughter.
The station was owned for many years by Huntington Harris, as in the Harris Bank of Chicago. He loved classical music and gave himself his own time slot on the weekends to spin his albums. This also required that he read liner cards. The station’s motto used to be WAGE- in the Heart of the Hunt Country. Regrettably, Mr. Harris gave a memorable rendition of the phrase that would have made a sailor blush. The very next week WAGE became the Sparkling Sound of Loudoun County.
And, yes, I had my own contributions to the blooper reel. Like the time I was doing the noon news live at the 4-H Fair near the hog pavilion, complete with an audience of farmers and their kids and referred to the “23 million dollars in crap damage” the county had suffered in a recent drought.
But all hilarity aside, it was here I cut my teeth as a journalist. I covered school board meetings, raging barn fires and car accidents. I covered a small plane crash. I got dirty looks from Senator John Warner back when he and his then-wife Elizabeth Taylor threw annual dinners at their Atoka mansion. Apparently I asked a political question during what was supposed to be a social event and it didn’t go down very well. I moderated a live on-the-air clash between the Board of Supervisors and representatives of a very angry Loudoun County Taxpayer’s Association.
I have one of their pay stubs framed as a reminder of my humble roots. I made $155 a week. WAGE Radio, I used to joke- a contradiction in terms. But as I think back on it, I would have worked for them for free if it would have added just another two weeks to its once central and intimate role in the life of Loudoun County. How sad and ironic that I have just written its obituary.