97-year-old radio station VOWR off the air in N.L. after thunderstorm

·2 min read
VOWR is off the airwaves after a thunder and lightning storm Friday night. (Francesca Swann/CBC - image credit)
VOWR is off the airwaves after a thunder and lightning storm Friday night. (Francesca Swann/CBC - image credit)
Francesca Swann/CBC
Francesca Swann/CBC

One of Newfoundland and Labrador's longest-standing radio stations is off the air after an intense thunderstorm rolled through the metro region on Friday night.

VOWR station manager Doreen Whalen says the station's transmitter was one of the storm's casualties.

Whalen believes the transmitter, which is located on Mount Scio Road, was struck by lightning.

"We're still doing the investigation. It is out of service," she said in an interview with The St. John's Morning Show. "We're not sure when we'll be able to get it back into service or how."

VOWR, a non-profit radio station that's been on the air for 97 years, is still broadcasting online.

But Whalen said the station, which caters toward seniors, has been inundated with calls from confused listeners. She said the station has been working to get the message out to them.

"It's been a busy few days for us," she said.

Whalen said preliminary findings showed charred wiring in the transmitter, but she's unsure of the extent of the damage and noted the station may need to replace it entirely.

A new transmitter would cost $50,000 to $60,000 — an expense the small, volunteer-run radio station can't afford, she said.

VOWR is in talks with its transmitter supplier to determine next steps, according to Whalen, who noted the need for public donations to pay for new parts and labour.

Relying on listeners

VOWR began in 1924 as an outreach project by Wesley United Church. The station's programming expanded over time to include secular music and a variety of shows. The VOWR website bills the station as "a true contributor to the cultural fabric of our community."

VOWR has some local business sponsors, said Whalen, but the station relies heavily on its listeners for donations.

In 1982, VOWR's broadcast tower toppled during a particularly strong wind storm. Whalen said the station was able to rebuild quickly, thanks to their generous audience.

Now she's hoping listeners will pull through for the station as they have in the past, especially if the station needs to buy another transmitter.

With the help of its listeners and volunteers, VOWR will be back on the airwaves in short order, she said.

"We've experienced and overcome other hardships, and I'm sure with the support of our listeners … we will overcome this one as well."

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