Freed-Hardeman University’s radio station, WFHU FM91, celebrates its 50th year on the air this school year. The anniversary was observed Saturday, Nov. 12, during the university’s annual homecoming festivities. The current staff honored those who have helped make the station possible including John Hall, Ray Eaton and others.
In 1966, after a visit to Morehead State University in Kentucky to see a newly assembled 10-watt Class D educational FM radio station, John Hall brought the idea for a radio station back to then President H.A. Dixon and Dean E. Claude Gardner. After they agreed with the idea, plans were made, and Hall became the station’s first director. The station was housed in the newly constructed student center and dining hall. Funding was a major issue; the Associates, chartered in 1963, came to the aid of the station. They raised the $12,000 necessary to equip it and put it on the air. The $12,000 in 1966 would be $89,254.72 today.
To offset the cost of keeping the station running, the staff started duplicating tapes of the annual Lectureship, and through this project they generated enough money for the station to operate.
Due to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations on educational stations, the first transmitter was a GATES 10-watt exciter transmitter, designed to send a signal to a remote, much more powerful FM transmitter.
“Ben Enochs, then-owner of WDXL radio station in Lexington who did the engineering work for the station, and I drove out Highway 100 West to Chickasaw State Park,” Hall stated in reference to signal testing in the spring of 1967. “With his ‘super powerful’ antenna on his station wagon, we were able to pick up the signal from the station on campus. I think I have some sense of what Marconi felt when he first transmitted a signal across the Atlantic Ocean Dec. 12, 1901.”
Dr. Billy Smith, Dean of the FHU College of Biblical Studies, was a freshman at Freed-Hardeman College in 1968, the second year of the station’s operation. He was invited by Hall to serve as the program director because of his previous experience with broadcasting in high school. Serving as the student director, he had a daily show, narrated the weekly “Favorite Hymns from Freed-Hardeman,” and did play-by-play of Lions basketball, baseball and powderpuff football. He held this position until he began working with Henderson’s local station, WHHM, in 1971.
“It was a tremendous experience that still provides many happy memories,” Smith said when asked about his days at the station. “I was both a Bible and a communication major, and my life’s work in ministry and teaching has greatly benefitted from these early, life-changing opportunities in radio.”
Changes in the FCC rules caused some problems for the station, and plans were made to convert from a 10-watt station to 3,000-watts. Once again, the Associates raised the funds necessary to make the expansion, and the tower and transmitter were moved to Mid-South Youth Camp, where they remain today. The WFHC studio moved to its current location in the Gardner Center in 1983.
It was at this time that Ray Eaton, a student staff member from 1979 to 1982, became the general manager, a position he held until 1999. When asked about his duties as general manager, he said, “I wore many hats then, including working as an on-air announcer, redesigning and refurbishing the studios with new equipment, planning a Jazz Fest for a few years and teaching radio production classes.”
WFHC officially changed its call letters to WFHU in 2005. In 2009 the official name for the station was changed from 91-FIVE, The Lion to FM91. The station also changed its style from rock and jazz to a mix of hits from the 80s, 90s and today.
Under the student leadership of Alyssa Blakeney and Kyle Burns, WFHU, a 10,500-watt station, currently serves not only Freed-Hardeman University, but also Henderson and the surrounding communities and is available on iHeart Radio. The music and programs have changed over the years to accommodate the needs and desires of WFHU, Freed-Hardeman University and the community. Every Sunday morning, the worship service of the Henderson Church of Christ is broadcast, and not only are Freed-Hardeman Lions’ and Lady Lions’ basketball, baseball and softball games aired, but also Chester County High School football games. Daytime programs include “The Wake Up Call,” “After Chapel,” “Red Zone Report” and “The Royal Roar.” Nightly programs include “The Roadshow,” a simultaneous broadcast of “WBBJ News” and “Rockshop.”