NL’s oldest radio station is suspended for the second time in 97 years after lightning strike



ST. JOHN’S, NL – Newfoundland’s oldest radio station is closed for the second time in its 97-year history, after its transmission tower collapsed in a weekend storm, leaving an expanse dead air and many confused old people.

VOWR’s tower problems began early Saturday morning, as a rare thunderstorm lit the skies over the provincial capital, station manager Doreen Whalen said. Since then, listeners hoping to listen to VOWR’s easy-to-listen music have only heard a fuzzy hum at the station’s location on the AM dial.

“We’re trying to assess the damage and figure out exactly what we need to do and how fast we can get another transmitter and stuff,” Whalen said in an interview on Monday.

A new transmitter could cost as much as $ 60,000, she said – a large order for a church radio station run by volunteers and reliant almost exclusively on donations. But the unlucky and unlikely love at first sight showed her just how important the station is to its listening community, she said.

VOWR is based at Wesley United Church in St. John’s and has been broadcasting since July 20, 1924, before the province became part of Canada. Whalen described the station as the “original idea” of Reverend Joseph G. Joyce, who wanted to bring his Sunday sermons to those who couldn’t attend in person.

Stacks of tapes from VOWR’s early days can still be found around the station, with labels such as “Chapel for the Confined: Palm Sunday Special”.

An online history for the station indicates that Joyce had to work to convince his followers that radio technology was not the devil’s work.

The last time the transmission tower broke was in January 1982, when it was blown over by high winds during another storm, Whalen said.

Meteorologist Dale Foote of the meteorological office in Gander, Newfoundland and Labrador, has confirmed thunderstorms are unlikely in the province. “For the humidity and instability, the (wind) shear and the trigger all lining up at the same time, it’s almost like threading the needle for Newfoundland,” he said. he said in a recent interview. “We’re so far north that we usually don’t have these warm tropical air masses above us. “

The station is home to a vast collection of vinyl records and cassettes filled with hard-to-find tracks from artists such as Anne Murray and 1960s Newfoundland pop group The Sanderlings. “It’s a different kind of music; it’s not the hard boom boom boom you get from other radio stations, not to criticize other radio stations, ”Whalen said.

VOWR is the station of choice for many seniors, and Whalen said his answering machine was overrun with messages from confused seniors wondering what happened to their favorite music. Listeners can still go online, but many people who leave bewildered messages say they don’t have internet access, she said.

“It means so much to so many people that you wouldn’t believe the calls we got,” she said. “VOWR has special meaning for a lot of people… I am always amazed at its reach and how it affects people. “

A volunteer technician worked hard on the tower, she said, trying to determine if it can be fixed and if the lightning was indeed to blame. In the meantime, young and old across the province shared the radio station‘s donation page on social media, encouraging friends and family to participate.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on August 24, 2021.

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