Wheeler Broadcasting's WVBE in Roanoke, VA, is an incredibly successful radio station. In some demos, the Vibe simulcast attracts 30 and 40 shares. How often do you see that anymore? Operations Manager Brett Sharp has been in radio for 30 years, 15 with Wheeler, and he says he's never seen a more dominant radio station ? and it's all about involvement. "As cliched as this may sound," he says, "we are big in heart and big on trying to deliver the absolute best, always. Our listeners deserve it. The Vibe is truly a great radio station, in every aspect. I wish I could take credit, but that should go to Leonard and Kianna."
Sharp is referring to Wheeler Broadcasting President and GM Leonard Wheeler and Vibe PD Kianna Wade. Wheeler Broadcasting purchased WXLK in Roanoke and WLYK in Lynchburg back in 1997; the stations were simulcasting WXLK's CHR format at the time. But WXLK, a class C FM, covered both Roanoke and Lynchburg, and Wheeler (pictured left) says the simulcast on WLYK wasn't offering a great deal in the way of extended coverage.
"I was very desirous to take the WLYK signal in a direction to serve the African American population," he says. "The Lynchburg area is approximately 18 percent African American. While the market had some Urban-directed stations in the past, it seemed no one on the FM side in the recent past, and with some wherewithal, really committed for the long term to making a play at a station targeting African Americans 100 percent. There was a Rhythmic CHR in the market at the time, but I felt there was an opportunity in serving African-American adults." So the company took WLYK to Urban AC in 2000 and became the Vibe, with new call letters WVBE.
A few years later, Wheeler flipped one of its Roanoke AMs from Country to simulcast WVBE, hoping to penetrate the Roanoke market. Even on the AM dial, it did well. Then the Vibe simulcast was extended even further, to an FM signal in a county adjacent to Roanoke. Today the Vibe is also simulcast on an HD2 signal for WXLK and on a translator in Roanoke at 97.3.
Wheeler says it takes several pieces to cover the area, so the company is working with the resources and assets it has to serve the community. And that service is second to none, as evidenced by the Vibe's amazing 40 share with African Americans. Wheeler reports that the station is always above a 30 share, but generally around the 40-share range.
As he notes, "We are clearly the go-to station for African Americans in our market. Beyond programming music and entertainment to appeal to our target market, we can also speak to issues that are more pronounced in the African American community."
Kianna Wade (pictured right), a onetime pharmaceutical rep, is WVBE's PD. After falling in love with station and what it stood for, she joined the staff as a part-time jock in 2006. In 2007, she was promoted to WVBE promotions director and took over middays. And, before moving up to PD in 2012, she also carried a list.
"The Vibe does so much more than provide music and entertainment for our listeners," Wade says. "Black radio has historically been a powerful resource to the African-American community. It is our honor that the Vibe is an integral part of the community. We are nothing without the people we serve. Each of us at the station takes pride and value in serving our community. Whenever possible WVBE tries to align itself with nonprofit organizations and agencies striving to improve and empower the community. We do our best to help assist with events and projects, via lending on-air time as media sponsors, aid in planning community events, or volunteering as MCs."
Wade goes on, "We also recognize that we are in the position to help shape the entertainment culture in our market. We therefore take the time and investment to create our own station events for our listeners, ranging from after-work social events and musical concerts to family-focused activities like health fairs to Easter egg hunts."
It's the community involvement, culture shaping, and serving others that Wheeler says gives him such great satisfaction as an owner. "No offense to other industries," he says, "but I can't imagine selling copiers would be this interesting and fun. Beyond the bottom line, there is great satisfaction in serving others, and also in winning. Each of our stations serves a somewhat different target, but we want to win that target and be number one in it. We have no station as dominant in a target demographic as WVBE is. It is also circular ? the more you serve your audience well, the more audience you build, and the more audience you build, then, indeed, the better you can serve others and be of impact in their lives. Radio stations and the emotional connection they build with an audience are a great conduit."
And Wheeler isn't afraid to make the commitment needed to win in a corporate dominated radio world: "We were willing to commit to the resources and investment to serve a market that we felt was underserved, plus stay the course even through some unprofitable years to build a franchise and strength in the market. I'd like to believe we are geniuses, but realistically, our position doesn't have a lot of competition on the over-the-air radio front. Along the way we had competition from a Rhythmic CHR for some years ? they now are pop CHR. We did have an Urban/ Urban AC competitor in Lynchburg in the recent past, but they didn?t stay in the format past two years. We deserve some credit for being strong enough in our position that a new competitor didn't make quick inroads."
For the past seven years, the Vibe team has planned the Henry Street Festival. It's the largest African-American festival in Southwest Virginia, and the major fundraiser for the Harrison Museum of African American Culture. The Vibe serves as the event's promotional powerhouse, as well as lining up major national recording artists to perform at the festival.
Wade says the festival takes months to plan, but that it's a great joy to unite several organizations working for the same cause: to educate and entertain the people of Southwestern and Central Virginia. She says, "Watching the thousands of people enjoying themselves the day of the festival is so rewarding, and well worth the investment of time and energy."
Additionally, for the past six years, the Vibe has partnered with the National Bone Marrow Registry and has registered hundreds of people of color to be donors, spearheading and coordinating drives throughout the community. "It's not an easy event to pull off," Wade says. "You need to motivate someone to agree to go through a swab of their mouth and do about a 10-minute or more paperwork process. And of course, in the end, be willing to be a donor if they are a match with someone in the future." Talk about working hard to improve your community!
Wheeler says the chances of a minority individual finding a match for a bone marrow transplant are very low, given that African Americans and other minorities make up a very low percentage of pre-screened donors on national registries. "Vibe has worked to improve this," he says. "There are a number of diseases that are more prevalent in the African-American community, yet also the African-American community indexes lower on having continuity of health care and preemptive health screenings. Vibe produces a Community Health Fair each year in Roanoke and Lynchburg that involves the availability of some health screenings."
With as much as the Vibe team does to serve the community, it's no wonder that translates into massive shares of the audience. The Vibe on-air team is incredibly dedicated, always willing to lend a helping hand and to step in whenever possible. Their commitment to radio speaks volumes, from traveling an hour's distance to be on air to freely giving their time at community events. Each of them gladly serves the community, working with school kids and training young talent to be future stars. And that's what live, local ? and successful ? radio is all about.
Check out the VIBE at www.vibe100.com and Congratulate Leonard Wheeler on running such a top-notch radio station at firstname.lastname@example.org
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