by Chris Rouhier
Since its first show on April 1, 1933, the Wheeling Jamboree has entertained generations of music fans across the country. Today, it keeps Wheeling’s rich country music heritage alive every Saturday night at Wheeling Island Hotel and Casino.
In October, the Jamboree expanded its reach across the airwaves once more with the launch of WWOV 101.1 FM, the new radio home of the venerable music show.
Wheeling Jamboree President/Treasurer Dave Heath has been instrumental in bringing back live Jamboree performances and launching WWOV. The station has a full schedule of musical, religious, and community programming, viewable at the station’s website, http://wwovfm.com/. According to Heath, that schedule is “very liquid at this early stage.”
“I invite those in the community to contact me with creative suggestions and interests to enhance our programming,” he said.
WWOV listeners and Jamboree attendees will hear repeated references to “traditional” country music. According to Heath, pop and rock-influenced music “containing a primitive dialect” is not authentic country. He cited George Jones, Merle Haggard, and Connie Smith as traditional country musicians. He also directed interested readers to check out www.wheelingjamboree.org for a detailed history of the Jamboree and its role in supporting country music.
WWOV is classified as a “Low Power FM Broadcast Radio Station” (LPFM). According to the Federal Communications Commission, such stations are “authorized for noncommercial educational broadcasting only.” In the fourth quarter of 2013, Heath applied for and received LPFM authorization.
“I have a wide-ranging background in music, radio, and technology that gave me the familiarity needed to compile all the aspects and items to get the station on the air,” said Heath.
This effort included selecting a radio frequency that would be accessible throughout the area and finding a tower and transmitter site that would reach the Wheeling area. WWOV currently broadcasts from nearby Belmont County, Ohio.
As a condition of its LPFM status, WWOV cannot sell advertisements; this also means that listeners will not have the experience interrupted by commercial breaks. Instead, WWOV solicits “underwriters” to support each of its shows. According to the WWOV website, “Underwriting announcements are factual and understated, and seek to inform listeners about a service rather than induce them to purchase a product.”
Lauttamus Security and Stratuswave Communications are two such underwriters. According to Heath, WWOV “would not be on the air” without their support.
“We have plenty of underwriting opportunities of all sizes and programming interests for businesses and individuals that are dedicated to Wheeling to support our first Community Radio Station,” he added.
Currently, WWOV has a roughly 10-mile broadcasting radius, covering much of the Metro Wheeling area. In addition, the station streams online 24/7 allowing listeners across the country and world to tune in. Heath believes that establishing WWOV is an important part of preserving the Jamboree.
According to Heath, maintaining a radio presence for the Jamboree is “…important in terms of the show’s origins or ‘lineage’ and musical heritage and [to] be a local vehicle for those within earshot to become aware of the events surrounding [the Jamboree].
“All one has to do is take a serious and thoughtful look at the current and longstanding successful model of 650 WSM in Nashville and home to the Grand Ole Opry for validity,” he said.
As the second-longest running country music radio show in the country, the Jamboree is the leader of an active live music scene in the Wheeling area. Other programs include the Third Fridays at Artworks concert series, the Victoria Jamboree, and regular concerts at venues such as Down on Main Street. Heath said that he “…reveres the importance of local live music opportunities.
“Music and art in general are social sharing and even spiritual outlets that meet our deep-felt desires to communicate with other folks who have similar passions for expression … . In simple terms they allow us to share life stories in a way that are intimate to one another,” he said.
Wheelonians will be pleased to learn that – in addition to the many nationally recognized stars who have played the Jamboree’s stage – many of its regular musicians are from the Ohio Valley.
One such musician is Jo Ann Jones, who grew up in nearby New Cumberland. According to Jones, whose grandfather was a Jamboree musician “…from one of the very first times I went there, I knew that I would aspire to be part of that tradition.
“It makes my heart warm when I think about all the things that are coming from and will continue to come from all that hard work,” Jones said.
Since 2013, when the Jamboree re-launched its member artist program, it has inducted new members from Western Pennsylvania, Southern Ohio, and West Virginia. Other members come from as far away as Nashville.
“I am constantly scouting for competent, outstanding local and regional country entertainers,” said Heath.
Jones, who joined the Jamboree after winning the show’s “Star Quest” contest, believes strongly in the talent of local musicians. According to Jones, “You may find some of the best musicians in the country right here in Wheeling.”
Jones believes that WWOV is central to the Jamboree’s future.
“The [Jamboree] was rooted in radio,” Jones said. “I really think that the new Wheeling Jamboree could become a really great asset to the Wheeling area. Country music belongs in Wheeling.”
Heath has ambitious plans for WWOV and the Jamboree.
“The station is seeking a facility to establish a satellite studio in downtown [Wheeling], large enough to have a small museum, souvenir shop, and stage for live daytime broadcast concerts and interviews,” Heath said.
According to Heath, in addition to preserving the Jamboree, the station’s goals include, “…developing tourism to Wheeling and music education enhancement in the scope of [Wheeling’s] country music heritage.
“One program I’m extremely eager to launch is a ‘Visit Wheeling’ show in cooperation with the [Wheeling] CVB,” he said.
Heath also hopes to launch a “Music in the Schools” show highlighting local music programs. He encouraged area music teachers to contact WWOV via their website to have their programs recognized on the radio.
Thanks to the work of Heath and others – and owing to the Jamboree’s storied history – the show may once again taste the recognition it once held. According to Heath, the Jamboree will be prominently featured in a Ken Burns documentary on country music scheduled to air in 2017 on PBS. Until that time, Jamboree fans will be able to hear Wheeling history on Saturday nights on Wheeling Island and by turning the dial to 101.1 FM.
feature photo from Wheeling Jamboree