WHKP SWITCHES TO FOX NEWS RADIO: NOT JUST CHANGE FOR CHANGE’S SAKE
By WHKP News and Program Director Larry Freeman
As the Harvard Business Review recently pointed out, “A company periodically needs to shake itself up, regardless of the competitive landscape.” WHKP Radio understand this, though we’ve never taken change lightly and much about us and what we do has remained the same through almost 7 decades of service to our local community and service area. The “core” staff at the station is a good example: a couple of our folks have been with us for over 50 years, another is approaching 50 years, and several have been there more than 40 years. That’s almost unheard of in today’s ever-changing, fast-moving media climate. Our decision to switch network affiliations for the first time in half a century is a result of changing circumstances and our commitment to the community to be the best possible source of locally owned and operated information.
When WHKP first signed on-the-air on the stage of the old Carolina Theater building on Main Street at 11 in the morning on October 24, 1946, one of the station’s original owners, local attorney and one-time Member of Congress Monroe M. Redden, Sr. stood behind the podium and declared the station’s total commitment to the community, and the station never strayed from it (see the sign-on photo) .
“Back in the day”, WHKP, like most local stations, relied heavily on nationwide networks for programs, news, etc. At its outset, WHKP affiliated with the leading radio network at the time which was the Mutual Broadcasting System (see it on the WHKP-HHS press box photo). The news that folks heard at the top of every hour on WHKP in the late 1940’s was by such memorable radio journalists as Cedric Foster, Fulton Lewis, and Gabrielle Heater.
In the very early 1950’s, Kermit Edney (who had joined the staff in 1947) became a part-owner of the station and guided it toward an affiliation with the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) which was a “rising star” on radio and which brought to Hendersonville the very popular “Don McNeill’s Breakfast Club” morning program. The ABC Radio network had broken away years earlier from the NBC (National Broadcasting Company) Blue network, all of which were founded and owned at one time by RCA. ABC brought to Hendersonville listeners such radio newsmen as Howard K. Smith. The list of trusted radio reporters on ABC grew over time, and in later years included such industry leaders as Frank Reynolds, Peter Jennings, and Ted Koppel.
But the real “anchor” at the ABC Radio network, for well over a generation, was Paul Harvey. Paul Harvey, who’d started his career at a radio station in Tulsa in 1933, began broadcasting his “News and Comment” on ABC at affiliate station WENR in Chicago in 1944…and added his famous “Rest Of The Story” series two years later in 1946. Paul Harvey was an immediate and lasting “hit” with Hendersonville radio listeners. The relationship between WHKP and ABC Radio has lasted for over half a century.
When Paul Harvey died on February 28, 2009, things began to change. The network started negotiations with his son Paul Harvey, Junior to carry on at least the “Rest Of The Story” series, which Paul, Junior wrote every day. Those negotiations quickly fell apart. What followed was a succession of personalities intended to replace Paul Harvey that included former U.S. Senator Fred Thompson, at least one of the sons of President Ronald Reagan, and for a while Governor Mike Huckabee. None of them “caught fire” with listeners, at least not as a replacement for Paul Harvey. Within a couple of years, the ABC Radio network began to diminish and the ABC Radio “brand” has been sold and re-sold at least twice in the last five years.
As all that was happening, WHKP was keenly aware that FOX News Radio was not only a growing force in broadcast journalism, but had become the consistent leader for over a decade. Understanding the growth and popularity of FOX, the professionalism of its journalists, the familiarity of its people (largely due to TV’s FOX News Channel), and the straight-forward and clearly conservative tone of its reporting, it was obvious that FOX’s “we report, you decide” style would be an ideal “fit” with Hendersonville and Henderson County.
So, in the early spring of this year, WHKP President and General Manager Art Cooley authorized me to begin negotiations with FOX News Radio . We reached an agreement in May and the decision was made to leave our “old friend” ABC, as of midnight June 30/July 1st.
What you’ll hear on AM 1450 (and on your computer at whkp.com) at the top of every hour starting at midnight July 1, will be the top-rated and undisputedly most “fair and balanced” radio newscasts in the industry. Initially, FOX will bring to Hendersonville Brian Kilmeade and his popular three-hour daily talk show “Kilmeade and Friends” for local late night listeners from 12midnight to 3am, along with commentary three times each day by FOX contributor Todd Starnes. FOX will also provide for local listeners continuing “crisis coverage” of major events and the most immediate and accurate “breaking news” in radio. And the FOX affiliation means WHKP now has the complete line-up of FOX personalities, programs, features, and services that will enable us to continue the commitment made by M.M. Redden, Sr. almost 70 years ago to bring to Hendersonville and to our coverage area the best information available.
In order to make this happen, WHKP isn’t giving up any of our local and existing services. In fact, our local news has been expanded (we’ve added an updated full length local newscast at 3:10pm each day and updated local headlines all night long); weather as Hendersonville’s “official observation station” for the National Weather Service will continue; Mike Huckabee will be heard nightly from 6 to 9pm and his commentary will be heard three times daily. WHKP won’t “break stride”either with the best sports coverage in the region…Carolina Panthers, UNC Tarheels, Appalachian State Mountaineers, and a full schedule of local games. And of course weekday afternoons will continue with three hours of the number one (just ask him!) talk show in the world, Rush Limbaugh. All of this will continue to be backed up by shows with our outstanding on-air staff of gifted professionals including Chuck Finley, Chuck Hill, Tippy Creswell, Tyler Sams, Matt Mittan and Agnes Cheek, Charles Hayes, Valen Vera Cruz….and with local news, commentary, and special events with Larry Freeman.
So, as the Harvard Businesss Review advised, we’re shaking things up…for the better! And as we begin a whole new era with FOX News Radio, we at WHKP do so with the words of Kermit Edney, as he so often and so eloquently quoted the late U.S. Senator Jesse Helms, “sursum corda”---lift up your hearts---as we head into the next 50 years!