A Brief History
By Bethany Ford

Public radio in the Savannah area began with a group of volunteers in February 1978, incorporating as Georgia Public Radio in July 1978. The community-owned station went on the air on April 20, 1981, from studios at 409 East Liberty Street. The first words broadcast were, "This is WSVH Savannah," followed by Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. The successful launch owed much to donations of equipment and energy from the community, including the donation of tower space for the transmitter by WSAV-TV, the NBC affiliate in Savannah. The nucleus of the record library consisted of donations from area radio stations, including some 2000 classical albums from WWSA/WCHY radio, formerly used by Dwight Bruce's classical program on WTOC radio. WSOK radio donated jazz albums.

The broadcast day was 18 hours, 6 am till midnight, seven days a week. The schedule was primarily classical music originating from our studios, with a mix of short information features through the day, All Things Considered from National Public Radio in the afternoon, evening symphony concerts, and late-night jazz. Folk and show music, the word game My Word, and various specials were included on the weekend. Programs that have been on our schedule from the beginning, besides All Things Considered, include Saint Paul Sunday Morning, the Saturday afternoon opera program, the New York Philharmonic, and the Chicago and Saint Louis Symphonies.

The early days of the station were marked by successful fund drives and many enthusiastic listeners, members and volunteers. The station mascot was Broadcat, a friendly black and white feline. The schedule was adjusted in the fall of 1981, adding late-night classical music with Horace Fleming during the week, and jazz with David Starnes from 4 to 5 weekday afternoons.

A major step forward was the addition of a satellite dish in April 1982, greatly improving the quality and quantity of NPR and other national programs. Previously, ATC and other news programs came to us over telephone lines, and national music programs came on tape through the mail. The satellite made it possible for us to air live national music programs and simulcasts; most notably, it allowed the addition of A Prairie Home Companion to our Saturday schedule. Our first simulcast with Georgia Public Television was a Live From Lincoln Center concert on June 3, 1982.

Special benefit events held in the 1980s included wine-tasting festivals in Savannah and Hilton Head, an annual fashion show at Town and Country, and film showings, including Amadeus. The station's first Record Sale was held in the fall of 1982. Long-running shows added in the '80s include Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz in May 1982, and the Radio Reader in June 1983. We also heard dramatizations of Star Wars, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and The Lord of the Rings. One hour of Morning Edition, from 8 to 9 am weekdays, and Weekend Edition were added in April 1987.

In November 1988, WSVH became part of Peach State Public Radio (now Georgia Public Radio), a then four-year-old state-wide network belonging to Georgia Public Broadcasting. WWIO, our sister station bringing WSVH's programming to Brunswick and the Golden Isles, went on the air on February 28, 1993. In March 1993, our broadcast day was expanded to 24 hours, with classical music during the night Sunday through Thursday, and jazz Friday and Saturday.

Many more programs joined our schedule in the early 1990s, including Adventures in Good Music with Karl Haas in October 1990, Car Talk with Click and Clack in January 1991, and our own locally-produced Irish music program, The Green Island with Harry O'Donoghue, in December 1992. Morning Edition expanded to begin at 7 am in February 1989, at 6 am in August 1991, and at 5 am in September 1998. Other programs heard in the '90s include Rabbit Ears Radio, The Complete Works of Winnie the Pooh, Bob and Ray, Wade in the Water: African American Sacred Music Traditions, Will the Circle Be Unbroken?, a documentary on the civil rights movement, and the Seasonings holiday food specials with Vertamae Grosvenor.

Jazz great Mel Tormé visited Savannah to perform a benefit concert for WSVH/WWIO on April 19, 1994, part of the Savannah Swings with Johnny Mercer festival. We were also excited to host a national broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion, live from Savannah, on June 22, 1996, with Garrison Keillor and guests the Squirrel Nut Zippers, the Hopeful Gospel Quartet, and John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

In January 1997, the WSVH/WWIO studios moved to new quarters on the campus of the Skidaway Institute Of Oceanography on Skidaway Island. Over the years, technical upgrades have continued, with satellite reception going digital, the majority of the record library now on compact disc, the advent of digital tape recording, and other improvements. Some things have not changed, however. WSVH and WWIO still strive to bring you the best information, classical music, jazz, and other unique programming. And the support of our listeners is still essential to the continued well-being of public radio in the coastal area.

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Page updated 1/6/04