First Posted: 10/28/2014
WRGN is celebrating its 30th anniversary. All year. The Christian radio station nestled in the Back Mountain “radiates good news” not simply over its air waves, but as a part its daily activity. Often listeners make their way to the station, open the front door and, in some way, feel they are home.
The station began operations 30 years ago with Burl Updike, station manager, making his way to the microphone on Oct. 19, 1984, and announcing, “It is with grateful hearts that we begin our first broadcast.”
Updike, previous owner-operator of Suburban News in Sweet Valley, had a vision for the station before he had a building in which to house it. He believed it was God’s will that Christian radio come to Northeast Pennsylvania.
When a friend reminded him of the tremendous amount of resources necessary to operate a radio station, Updike simply replied that he was ready.
Current general manager Tim Madeira, a college student at King’s College when the station began, heard a test signal in 1984 and immediately called to offer his services to the station as a volunteer.
“I simply came to meet the Updikes at the transmitter site,” said Madeira. “At the time, there was no building.”
Staff and listeners have remained grateful since that first day – grateful for the opportunity to be spiritually inspired and to have an opportunity to reinforce their Christian beliefs, grateful for a chance to call in a prayer request and to have someone on the other end of the line carefully write it down with a promise to pray and grateful to have a spot on the dial they can listen to with young families.
Early in the station’s history, Updike especially enjoyed “Bible Quiz,” a program that invited participants to call when they found a verse read over the air. Most “quizzers” were put on the air, with Updike inquiring not only about their biblical knowledge, but also family happenings and the weather.
Many of the 30 to 40 callers each weekday morning at 7 a.m. felt the opportunity was a lifeline, a reason to wake up and to gain a spiritual perspective before starting their day.
The station has been quick to put callers on the air, often asking, “Can I put you on the air?” during an interesting conversation with a listener. Most seem to be completely comfortable addressing the radio audience, put at ease with the family spirit the station embraces.
Although the station enjoys a somewhat “folksy” family feel, Updike and now Madeira have always embraced technology and innovation.
“During a recent meeting with Burl, he reiterated the importance of technology as a God-given tool to spread the gospel message on a global level,” said Madeira. “From day one, he was a visionary.”
Updike established a “sister station” WIVF in St. Croix, which also serves St. Thomas and Tortola.
He and his wife, Shirley, who handed over the reins of the operation to Madeira and his wife, program director Heather Madeira in 2011, remain a valuable resource to the station.
Shirley was instrumental in the short and long-term success of the station. As program manager, she made sure programming ran smoothly.
She also was very talented at the microphone with a morning program which encouraged listeners in their daily lives.
Many households tune into the radio throughout the day, the positive music and message becoming a daily routine. Programs are a careful mix of traditional preaching, faith-based music and contemporary presentations.
Dan Longmore, program manager, is valuable both behind the scenes and on the air, as he presents “Refresh & Renew,” an afternoon program which provides a scriptural perspective.
The station has recently also introduced new Saturday features with “20 The Countdown Magazine” and “The Boundless Show with Lisa Anderson” providing programming specifically geared to young people.
The station has also valued its Friends Program, which encourages listeners to support its efforts financially, or simply with the provision of a special baked good for a planned event.
The station’s library, the brainchild of Shirley Updike, is thriving with over 14,000 volumes, CDs and DVDs. Located in the basement of the building, the library is a valuable resource to home schoolers, college students and the general public.
With titles ranging from “The Veggie Tales” to works of Christian theorists, the library provides lending materials to a vast variety of readers.
From early in its history, the radio station has published a “Radiogram,” a newsletter providing not just information on broadcasting, but on general activities at the station, often including photos of recent visitors.
As a non-commercial entity, the station relies upon listener support to fund its activities. An annual share-a-thon provides opportunity for listeners to make a one-time-gift or sponsor an entire day.
When asked his vision for the future of the station, Madeira said he wants to be open and available to God. With six translators, internet access to the station and an app facilitating connection to the station, the effort is forward thinking and far reaching. Nevertheless, Madeira believes even more people will be reached by the station in the future.
“I know that we are going to continue to grow,” he sasod. “I just don’t know exactly what that is going to look like.”