WRVG was preceded by an AM station called WGTC. Lane Wells, the first faculty advisor of WRVG, served as the student Station Manager of WGTC during the 1958-1959 school year. During that time, the WGTC studio was located on the first floor of Giddings Hall. Later, when Wells returned as a professor, the station was relocated to the attic of Giddings. When the school applied for the license for the new FM station, they wanted to keep the WGTC call letters; but unfortunately they were already in use by a commercial station. So instead, they chose the call letters WRVG, which meant The Radio Voice of Georgetown.
WRVG, Georgetown College’s campus radio station came from humble beginnings. The weak 10 watt station was located in a building where the current Ensor Learning Resource Center now stands. The faint signal did not discourage devoted broadcasting students and many of them would stay in the radio station all day. The students wished for a more powerful station that would allow more opportunities for Georgetown College and its students in the broadcasting world.
WRVG came on the air for the first time on Tuesday, November 19, 1963 at 4PM for two hours. Three days later JFK was assassinated. WRVG’s 1st Faculty advisor, Lane Wells, was putting in an air monitor, a Heathkit, that he bought, built and installed atop the control room rack cabinet.
WRVG was only the fourth educational FM station to come on the air in the state of Kentucky. The station’s first console held the Gates Radio Company consolette. Wells built the platform console in the College’s shop the summer of 1963. He installed the two turntables atop the platform, wired it with various mics, recorders, etc.
President Robert Mills budgeted $10,000 from a Shell Oil Company grant to build WRVG. The first transmitter was a hand-me-down 10-watter from Depauw University. Wells recalled, “I’ll never forget riding up to Greencastle, Indiana from Georgetown’s air field. The owner-operator, Bob Johnson of WAXU [formerly WGOR, downtown], and I flew up in Bob’s light plane to see it. We had to sweep snow off of its wings. I prayed.”
Johnson was instrumental in helping to get WRVG on the air. The first student Station Manager, Rick Leigh, drove up to Depauw and brought it home with Wells. It weighed “tons” in comparison to by today’s transmitters.
WRVG thanks Lane Wells, WRVG’s first faculty advisor, for contributing to this section.
In 1997, Dr. William Gillespie, professor and then advisor for the campus station, contacted a broadcasting engineer to see if it would be possible to increase the station’s signal strength. The engineer researched the question and found to everyone’s surprise that the station’s signal could be increased to 50,000 watts, making it an FM superstation in central Kentucky. The College considered the opportunity and decided to increase the station’s signal strength. A tower was built on the limestone rich land on East Campus near the baseball field, and plans were developed to expand the station’s programming to a professional, 24/7 broadcast operation.
The powerful new station, 89.9 WRVG-FM, had one of the clearest signals in the southern part of the United States because there were no other stations in the region sharing that frequency. And since the station would be on the air continuously, a fulltime staff was needed who would be able to support the programming schedule when students would be away for summer break and over holidays. A professional staff of twenty was hired, including programming director Tom Martin, a respected national radio broadcaster, on-air hosts Jerry Gerard and Laura Shine, well-known music gurus in the radio world, and newscaster Susan Marshall, now morning anchor on National Public Radio. Dr. Gillespie was the station’s general manager.
To ensure a solid and diverse, 24 hour a day, seven days a week, programming schedule, WRVG launched the World Radio Network and sought programs produced by other college radio stations and by public radio stations around the country. Stations were given the opportunity to send to World Radio their best programs, and in return, take whatever shows they wanted in the programming pool for their broadcast schedules. Over 220 stations participated, allowing public radio programs from the World Radio service to be broadcast by stations all over the country, while providing WRVG with exciting programs to fill out its lineup. Georgetown College’s WRVG radio programming and its World Radio programming service became a hit locally and nationally.
WRVG offered so much to a wide audience. The station, with its programming motto, “Free the Music!” played mostly jazz and blues, and produced a number of extremely popular news and information programs, including an award-winning poetry program. ACE magazine readers voted WRVG as the best radio in Lexington, and because of Georgetown’s convenient location on the crossroads of I-64 and I-75, bands from all over would stop by the station to play live in WRVG’s performance studio.
In 2003, with a significant downturn in the national economy, the College was compelled to sell the 50,000 watt station. Even though the station was an asset, administrators and trustees believed that selling the station would be more beneficial for the College in the long term. WRVG-FM was sold for $2.7 million, and the World Radio programming service was discontinued. The 89.9 frequency in Lexington, and the tower on the College’s east campus is now in use by the KLOVE radio network. But WRVG, the Radio Voice of Georgetown, survives. WRVG bumper stickers can still be seen occasionally while driving around Lexington.
In 2004, Dr. Jason Phillips came to Georgetown College and took over the role of WRVG’s faculty advisor. It was under his direction that a new low-powered station was created. He oversaw the construction of a new tower and antenna on top of the Cralle Student Center. His experience and knowledge of how to run a radio station was crucial since the FCC’s deadline for the re-launch of the new WRVG was May 2005. The station was able to keep the WRVG call letters but moved to frequency 93.7 FM.
During the 2007-2008 school year the studio was completely refurbished. This was made possible in part by the generous donation of equipment from a Georgetown College alumni. Live streaming began officially at 7 PM on October 2, 2008. This technology now allows the station to obtain a greater audience that terrestrial radio cannot reach.
WRVG has continued to serve students and community. In 2010, Dr. Chris Nix, Chair of the Communication Department, took the reins of the station for that school year. And, sadly, just before the start of the 2011-2012 academic year, Dr. Bill Gillespie passed away unexpectedly from a stroke. The entire Georgetown College community mourned his passing while celebrating his stewardship of the radio station and, of course, his many other contributions to the community.
The station can still be found, operating 24 hours a day, in the Cralle Student Center. More and more students are signing up to host their own programs and study broadcasting. And by the way, WRVG’s first faculty Advisor, Lane Wells, is still broadcasting! You can hear his internet-only station, “EZ Does It Radio, Nostalgia with a bounce!” here.