Whitney Ervin, Features Editor
September 29 marked a very important day for Jacksonville State University’s own WLJS 91.9 FM station. The radio station celebrated 46 years on the air with the help of some very special visitors.
Bob Waldrep and Mike Sandefer dropped by the studio to chat with Mike Stedham and Billy Ramsey about how WLJS came to be. Waldrep was the original program director of WLJS and Sandefer was the first station manager. They were both gracious enough to have a chat with The Chanticleer while the first ever broadcast recorded 46 years ago was aired.
Sandefer and Waldrep have known each other since they were small children, and the companionship shines through in conversation with them both. It was also very clear how excited and proud they both were to have founded WLJS, something which has lasted longer than likely anyone could have anticipated.
When asked about how they felt about the longevity of WLJS, Weldrep said, “Grateful, amazed, astonished, surprised! It’s probably not something we foresaw lasting this long.”
“I’ve said before it’s like my first child,” Sandefer said. “But we got to give something to the university that has impacted generation after generation.”
“And by university we mean students,” Weldrep said. “Because it was student led, student driven. Because of course we had The Chanticleer, but it was weekly. There wasn’t a place where you could sit down and hear your thing being talked about all day long for PSAs and things like that.”
Sandefer was the SGA business manager at the time, but has been a lifelong radio hobbyist. The idea for a radio station began floating around, although he admits he “planted some seeds here and there” after noticing other major universities had radio stations.
“At the time, all of the big universities had a radio station,” Sandefer said. “We were the 3rd or 4th biggest university in the state and we didn’t.”
The administration was not particularly invested in the idea, but Sandefer was put in charge of the project. Waldrep joked during their interview with WLJS that he probably became involved because he owned the biggest record collection out of anyone Sandefer knew.
It was a long process of going through FCC applications, which resulted in them having nine months to build the radio station. The original tower was built on top of Houston Cole Library because it had to be on the tallest building in the area. They were practicing during the summer on the cable system playing music on what Waldrep referred to as “the clock channel” in preparation for airing the first radio broadcast. The night of their first transmission is memorable, and now somewhat infamous.
Sandefer remembers, “It was 2:30 in the morning, and all the sudden I realized we were transmitting. Unfortunately, the first words transmitted were me saying, ‘D–n! It works!’” Sandefer said.
“There was only one listener,” Waldrep said. “And it was me sitting in the office.”
The first official broadcast would take place on September 29th. When choosing what the first song aired should be, they wanted it to be something memorable. Waldrep chose “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin.
“I lucked into that one,” Waldrep said. “If I was into gambling, I’d be alright!”
46 years later, the results of their hard work is still a staple of Jacksonville State University. Waldrep and Sandefer are proud of what they helped build and to have been able to give something to which has remained for so long and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon.
“We didn’t have a plan that it would last this long. We were taking it day by day,” Waldrep said. “The important thing is whatever you’re doing commit to each other and commit to the mission.”