FROM STAFF REPORTS
After 25 years, five months, 18 days, 21 hours, three minutes and 21 seconds of continuous radio broadcasting, WPUL-AM 1590, Volusia County’s only Black-owned radio station, signed off for the foreseeable future on Monday morning, Feb. 17, at 3:03 a.m.
The reason for the shutdown: Technical problems.
Covered for 20 years
For almost 20 years, WPUL-AM covered Ormond Beach to the north to New Smyrna to the southeast.
But since 2008, the station has operated at reduced power after its longtime landlord refused to renew the lease of its broadcast tower off Nova Road in South Daytona. The station searched for other broadcast sites, but other local radio station owners couldn’t – or wouldn’t – allow WPUL-AM to “share’’ broadcast sites.
Because of its reduced broadcasting area, WPUL began to lose local listeners – though it had more than 50,000 online listeners at the time it was shut down.
Last year, the broadcast license was assigned to a new Black ownership group, Psi Communications LLC. The new group decided to shut WPUL down temporarily to find another broadcast tower site and improve the station’s signal before placing it back on the air.
Under Federal Communications Commissions rules, a radio station can “go dark” – be off the air – for a total of 364 consecutive days before the license to broadcast is permanently forfeited.
WPUL’s first day on local airwaves was Sept. 1, 1988. It was then known as WZIP-AM and was a country-western music station.
A group of investors, including Daytona Times founder Charles W. Cherry, Sr., put up the initial capital to purchase the station from D&H Radio in 1988. All of the investors were graduates of Morehouse College and members of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.
“When we bought the station, we originally wanted to play groups like Earth, Wind and Fire and Kool and the Gang all day, every day,” explained current General Manager Charles W. Cherry II. “But when we changed the format, all the previous advertisers dropped us. That taught us that we should think about things before making a big move in the radio business.”
For almost 20 years, local gospel DJ and concert promoter Mattie Howard was the backbone of the station. From WPUL-AM’s first day on the air in 1988, she played gospel music every weekday morning starting at 6 a.m., until leaving for health reasons in 2003.
“Ms. Howard was dedicated to God, the community, and the station,” Cherry said. “She never wanted to miss a day on the air, no matter how tough it was for her to show up at the studio.”
Only Black music station
For years, WPUL-AM was the only full-time Black music radio station in Central Florida. The station tried to stay on the technological cutting edge to stay competitive.
It was one of the first local stations to air broadcasts via satellite, and aired the “Tom Joyner Morning Show’’ in the early 1990s. The “Joyner’’ show then moved from WPUL-AM to WCFB-FM (Star 94.5) in Orlando, where it has remained.
The station also has broadcast a number of formats, including urban adult contemporary music, gospel music, and progressive talk. Various programs have aired over the years, including jazz, health and medical, a show selling discount items, and local talk, Christian ministry, politics, and sports.
Radio station technology evolved at WPUL-AM from eight-track cartridge machines, reel-to-reel tape and vinyl records to cassettes, then to mini-disks and CDs, then to computer files. Programs were tracked first by handwritten records, then by computer.
The station went from broadcasting over a transmitter with vacuum tubes literally held together by duct tape and chicken wire to its current transmitter that has run 24-7 for years with minor maintenance and without a major hiccup.
Moved to MLK
In 1999, WPUL-AM established a secondary studio at the Daytona Times building on South Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. in Daytona Beach to reduce costs and move closer to the center of the Black community.
“Daddy (Charles W. Cherry, Sr.) didn’t think we could have the transmitter at Nova Road and a studio at MLK,” Cherry II remembers. “We told him it was no problem.
When we got it done, he proudly showed the studio off to everyone who came by his MLK office. It made it a lot easier on him to walk downstairs from his office and get on the air whenever he believed it was necessary to speak to the community.”
The last songs played on the air: “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Whitney Houston; “God Bless Africa” by Ladysmith Black Mambazo; and “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” by the Morehouse College Glee Club.
The station will remain silent until another tower site is located. Operations of Daytona Times and the Florida Courier will remain unaffected.