Nearly three decades ago, Jerry Edwards came to Lynchburg looking for a Bible study.
He found a broadcasting career.
Now, the veteran morning drive-time announcer and general manager of WRVL-FM (88.3) radio is experiencing growing pains.
WRVL, a 50,000 watt powerhouse radio station located on the Liberty University campus, has added nine active translator stations and is working toward putting its broadcast signal on the air all over Virginia and northern North Carolina. “We’ve always been blessed with a very good footprint,” Edwards said.
A translator allows WRVL’s broadcast to be transmitted to a radio station on a different frequency than the original signal.
About 18 months ago, the Federal Communication Commission opened the door to allowing non-commercial stations to apply for translators in the commercial radio bands.
“In our situation, we looked at it as we are a local radio station and that we would like to expand into certain areas,” Edwards said. “We applied for 15 of the translator stations. We thought, if we could get half of those, that would be great.”
As a result of those applications, the FCC approved seven of the translators WRVL was seeking.
The FCC requires the translators to be fed by a station’s main signal or by another translator that is carrying that signal.
“We set out to do that,” Edwards said.
The FCC rules further state that an applicant has three years to get translators on the air or the applicant will have to forfeit rights to the translator.
“Some of the organizations that had applied for hundreds of translators came to realize that they weren’t going to be able to build them,” Edwards said.
That opened the door for WRVL to get more translators allocated. “A lot of companies were making them available,” Edwards said.
The potential for translator acquisitions caught the attention of former Liberty University Chancellor, the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, who urged Edwards to move forward quickly with the plan.
“He wanted to put WRVL in every city in Virginia and northern North Carolina,” Edwards said. “It was a very aggressive vision.”
Consultant and LU graduate Rob Branch helped WRVL find a company that was willing to sell 20 of the translators in the Virginia and northern North Carolina area.
“Buy them,” Falwell said.
By the time the university stopped buying, WRVL owned the rights to 33 translators.
Each translator costs about $18,500 in equipment and labor, not including tower rental fees.
“Right now, we are operating nine of those 33,” Edwards said, adding he expects to one day have all 33 operational.
“I fully expect to have 20 to 22 in place by the end of this year,” he said.
If that happens, WRVL’s footprint will be greatly expanded to include Northern Virginia, Winchester, Harrisonburg, Covington and much of Virginia’s Tidewater area.
“By the end of next summer we believe we’ll have all these translators built,” Edwards said. “It’s exciting to see this puzzle start to fit together.”