50 and beyond: WETS-FM celebrates anniversary, launches spring fund drive

Published 2:12 pm Wednesday, March 13, 2024

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WETS-FM is celebrating 50 years of broadcasting excellence, community service and listener loyalty during its annual spring fund drive from May 20-25. 

WETS-FM 89.5, a local public radio station and National Public Radio affiliate, will begin taking donations for the drive from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday, May 20 through that Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Donations are also accepted anytime online. They aim to reach a donation goal of $75,000. 

“Fifty years is an incredible accomplishment for the station and for the community,” said Chad Barrett, WETS-FM station director. “We’re excited to celebrate half a century of high-quality programming, but we don’t just want to make this about us. We want to celebrate our listeners, because we got this far thanks to them.” 

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It all started in 1973 when local radio legend Richard “Little Richard” Ellis was hired to manage a proposed FM station on the East Tennessee State University campus.  

WETS-FM officially began broadcasting as an NPR affiliate on Feb. 26, 1974. In the beginning, the station was on air for just 12 hours a day, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., switching to the familiar 24-hour broadcasting model in 1989.  

One of WETS-FM’s most notable achievements was “Down Home Music,” a series produced by former Program Director Phil Leonard that was once carried by almost 100 stations nationwide.  

WETS-FM has also held special NPR Talent visits for listeners, including former “All Things Considered” host Linda Wertheimer and former “Morning Edition” host Bob Edwards. The station plans to bring more familiar voices to campus in the near future. 

Today, WETS-FM operates at 89.5 MHz in the Tri-Cities Tennessee/Virginia/North Carolina region and online, covering everything from local news and music to iconic NPR programs. This summer, the station will install a brand-new radio tower on top of Holston Mountain, maintaining quality broadcast coverage for listeners. 

“In celebration of our 50th, we want to honor not only our rich history but also our deep commitment to serving our community,” said Barrett. “From financial contributions to years of tuning in, our listeners have supported us through it all, and we will continue to give back. We’re excited to introduce some special gifts to our listeners this year.” 

WETS-FM asks for volunteers to answer phones and take donations during the fund drive, especially in the mornings and evenings. Listeners interested in helping the station or giving a listener testimonial may email barrettcw@etsu.edu or leave a voicemail at (888) 895-9387 expressing interest and available hours. 

Find more ways to celebrate WETS-FM’s 50th anniversary at wets.org.