By Carra Higgins
Certain voices and radio station call letters can be an instant signal that you’re close to home. Now, one of those familiar voices is back where his radio roots began ... even if he won’t be soaring over the airwaves as the voice of Flying Eagles basketball.
A little more than a week ago, West Virginia Radio Corp. purchased WJLS, the “Big Dawg,” and a longtime state-wide radio personality, Beckley’s own Fred Persinger, is back as the station’s general manager.
“It’s good to be back,” Per-singer commented. “Growing up, this was the station. When I was asked to be the GM, I gladly accepted.”
It was at WWNR that Per-singer got his start in radio in 1971. Nine years later, he was the first person hired at WTJN in Mount Hope. For more than 10 years before he joined West Virginia Radio, he was a part-time employee of the company by lending his voice for the play-by-play action of high school state tournaments. In 2001, he moved on to full-time work for West Virginia Radio.
The sale of WJLS to West Virginia Radio started because owner John Raese has had a passion to own a station in Beckley. Bill O’Brien, recent WJLS owner, says he is “thrill-ed” with the new ownership and thinks it’s an exciting time for the station.
“West Virginia Radio is a top-notch property,” O’Brien commented. “They’re radio people and they know how to do it the right way. It’s a good marriage.”
As the transition of ownership continues, Persinger said there is still work to be done. He explained the station is in the process of hiring more people — local people. Some of WJLS’s current staff — whom Persinger described as “passionate” about their work — will be retained.
Persinger is one of those passionate people, too.
“I don’t have to come to work; I get to come to work,” Persinger said. “I never look at the clock.”
Although Persinger is back in Beckley and at the helm of the station, he says he won’t be on air at WJLS. Don’t be fooled, though, by an upcoming on-air voice. His son, Fred Persinger II, sounds just like his father and will be a midday personality. Fred Persinger II will be coming back to the Beckley area from Martinsburg.
Persinger did say he plans to continue his statewide high school sports coverage for West Virginia MetroNews, also own-ed by West Virginia Radio.
Even though Persinger doesn’t plan to be on the airwaves, he’s looking forward to making radio at WJLS fun and informative and to giving area residents what they want and need — including programming from MetroNews and live, local on-air personalities who can be contacted with a quick dial of the phone.
Persinger added that there are no plans to change WJLS-AM’s gospel music programming. He said he and West Virginia Radio want to serve local residents and people enjoy the religious selections on the AM station.
“It’s going to be fun again to listen to the radio,” he commented.
Persinger explained that earlier in the week he took a break from his office at the WJLS studio, walked through town and saw several people he has known for many years, and he’s looking forward to seeing even more in the future.
He plans to continue residing in Hurricane — it’s closer to his granddaughter — but Beckley residents can count on seeing him throughout the week. Persinger said he’s planning to become involved with local organizations, such as United Way of Southern West Virginia and Rotary. And expect to see him in the stands during some Flying Eagles basketball games.
As for O’Brien, even though the station is under new ownership, he plans to still be involved in the Beckley community as he has been for the last 45 years. He enjoys his board membership at the Beckley Area Foundation and plans to emcee events during the next few months. He’s also planning to visit with his grandchildren soon.
“As they say, ‘Old broadcasters never die, they just fade to commercial,’” O’Brien said. “I’m happy in retirement.”
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