In 1953, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) granted an AM broadcast license to the Narrows, VA businessman “Happy” Romanus. He began building the WNRV station on a section of land located between the New River and the highway that is now known as Route 100 between Narrows and Pearisburg. Since the station was located next to a railroad track, the construction required special measures to prevent outside noises being heard on the air. In addition, in order to absorb vibrations from passing trains the control room was elevated several feet higher than the normal station floor level. In 1960 the station was sold to E.D. McWilliams. E.D.’s wife Megan took over ownership of the station after E.D’s death.
The arrival of Bob Whitehead was a critical event in WNRV’s history. In 1959, Bob moved his family from Pennsylvania to the area and became known as “The Voice of the New River Valley” over the next thirty years. Bob and Megan both dedicated themselves during that period to make WNRV a community-based station and a strong force in Giles County. The station was active in lots of community events and was well-known for leading multiple fund-raising causes, such as the Red Cross Bloodmobiles.
Bob was one of Southwest Virginia’s most respected broadcasters, and greeted his listeners each morning with his signature sign-on:
“Good morning everyone! This is WNRV, Narrows and Pearisburg in Virginia, beginning broadcasting activities for another day. WNRV operates on a federally authorized frequency of nine hundred ninety kilocycles, with a daytime power of five thousand watts.”
The station’s daytime license only permitted WNRV to broadcast from sunrise to sunset. However, there were numerous times the station was granted FCC permission to broadcast outside these time periods in order to provide the community with emergency information during severe weather events, such as floods and winter storms. This type of community service established WNRV as a critical source of local information during emergencies.
Megan McWilliams sold WNRV to a local partnership in 1990 and Bob Whitehead retired after the change in ownership. The new WNRV team consisted of General Manager Rebecca Lolli, Program Director Tom Crockett, and Sales/Marketing Manager Faye Nicholson.
Giles County’s first FM station WZFM 101.3 was launched by the new team in November 1991 with a “classic hits” format. In mid-1992 a large lightning strike destroyed WNRV’s AM transmitter and took the station off the air for twelve weeks (this transmitter had been active since the late 1960s). The station installed a used replacement transmitter, but it experienced problems. WNRV went off the air about a month later for a second time due to additional issues. On September 28, 1992, an emotional goodbye message from Faye Nicholson marked WZFM going off the air. This, combined with the WNRV AM issues, left Giles County without any local radio stations.
The next owner of WNRV was a Christiansburg, VA-based group, which operated the station until 1999.
Perception Media Group, Inc acquired WNRV in 1999. For the next eight years WNRV was used as a simulcast station for their Roanoke, VA WWWR (3WR) station with a Southern gospel and religious programming format. In mid-2007, operation of WNRV was assumed under a lease management agreement with Perception Media Group by Gary Jolicoeur and Dennis Welch. Gary and Dennis switched the format to bluegrass, which ushered in the current era of WNRV, as described on our recent history page.
On August 24, 2023 WNRV will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the original broadcast license.
This history of WNRV was taken from an article written by James Riffe, Jr, a former WNRV Announcer (1983-1988) and former WZFM/WNRV Announcer and Account Executive (1992). James still occasionally works with WNRV for a variety of production and promotion-related tasks.