WHFI radio—Building community across the airwaves

By Jeffrey Kanode, Real WV

February 13, 2023

A 295-foot tower looms over James Monroe High School. In an unassuming office space
across from a faculty lounge in the Monroe County Technical Center, a control board,
microphone, and a myriad of blinking lights on a small transmitter reveals the purpose behind
that tower. This high school and vocational education center campus also houses a radio station–
Classic Hits 106, WHFI.

Owned by the Monroe County Board of Education and operated by Monroe County
Technical Center, WHFI serves as a community radio station. Station manager and one-and-only
paid staff Brian Allen says that community engagement distinguishes WHFI or any community
station from commercial radio or even public radio.

“Everything that airs on WHFI comes from the community,” Allen explained. “Public
radio airs a great deal of content from National Public Radio (NPR). Nearly all of our content
comes locally, from our community.”

Funding also sets community radio apart, especially from commercial radio. WHFI
receives less than one thousand dollars annually from the Monroe County Board of Education.,
so Allen must find other sources of revenue. The station cannot sell advertising but can seek out
underwriters. Those ads cannot contain a “call to action,” or make a comparison to another
business or service. “I can tell you that ‘such-and-such restaurant’ has a fried chicken special,
but I can’t tell you to go there, and I can’t tell you their chicken tastes better than ‘that other
place’s’ chicken,” Allen said. Advertising aired during James Monroe football games produce
the most revenue for the station. These underwriters and other grants fund the station’s operating
expenses and needed technical upgrades.

Listeners to Classic Hits 106 WHFI will hear students and community leaders doing
public service announcements (PSAs) and local residents doing station i.ds or liners. In addition
to Maverick football, the station also broadcasts James Monroe girls’ and boys’ basketball
games, all funded by underwriters. Three locally written and produced shows come out of
WHFI: “Two Lane Highway with Jim Snyder” features a plethora of musical genres; “Can
Chaser Weekly With Kevin Hoke” (also featuring occasional guest hosts Corianna Spinks and
Ashley Laphew) highlights barrel racing and other horse related content, focusing particularly on
local youth equestrians, and “Keeping the Faith With Jeff K.” invites listeners to hear messages
of faith and humanity in classic and contemporary pop tunes.

In the past, the station aired a “Story Time” segment, where student writers read from
their own work, or shared excerpts from their favorite writers. James Monroe High science
teacher and writer Becky Crabtree also read chapters from one of her books.
Allen believes that the more voices he can air, the better the station will sound, and the
more it will truly be community radio. “We want more student and community involvement,”
Allen said. “I encourage churches and civic groups to reach out and we’ll help promote events in
our community.”

While there are student voices on WHFI today, in the past there were more, and Allen
wants to air more in the future. He said a change in funding for curriculum has caused this
decline, but he’s hopeful it can be remedied. According to Allen, Workforce West Virginia
provides the data the county uses to fund training in careers where a number of jobs are already
available in the county. Since Monroe County only has one radio station, the county lost the
funding for the radio broadcasting class. With the loss of academic standing, the radio station later became an extra-curricular club staffed by Mark Blevins. Later, the director of MCTC,
Tricia King, found funding for the station and the management position Allen now holds. “I
contend that students in Monroe County who are interested in broadcasting could easily find jobs
in surrounding markets—Princeton-Bluefield, Beckley, Roanoke, Christiansburg, Blacksburg.
They could find those jobs and still live in Monroe County.”

Allen dreams not only of the return of the radio broadcasting class, but the creation of a
multimedia course for the students of Monroe County. “We could train students to do
podcasting, video, social media marketing, all of it.”

He said such a class, or series of classes wouldn’t necessarily be just for those students
who are interested in possible careers in media. “Let’s say a student wants to own their own
business. I could train this guy who will someday be a plumber to do his own really catchy,
effective You Tube or TikTok videos to promote his work.”

Brian Allen has rich, varied experience when it comes to media and marketing. He made
training videos as part of his service in the Air Force. During his four years at WJLS Radio in
Beckley, he wrote commercials (called “spots” in the parlance of radio broadcasters) for local
businesses, and Allen won an award from the West Virginia Broadcasters’ Association for the
creativity and ingenuity of one of those scripts.

“Initially, I graduated from Concord with a degree in Computer Information Systems. I
thought that was where the future was. I always had a dream to be in broadcasting though, and I
never lost that dream. In 2012, I went back to school and earned my broadcasting degree.” As
part of his academic career at Concord, Allen also worked for the school’s radio and television

Allen came to WHFI in 2020 as an employee of MCTC. Since the beginning, he has been
a part-time employee of the Monroe County Board of Education. He also works through
AmeriCorps for the non-profit Friends of Monroe County.

Though his hours are considered part-time at WHFI Classic Hits 106, Allen’s visions for
what the station can grow to become are expansive. In addition to hoping for more student and
community involvement, he wants to see the station find funding for a generator and propane
tanks so it can stay on the air when the electricity goes out. “We’re the only station in Monroe
County. We need to be on the air so we can communicate with the public during an emergency.”
Allen also wants to see the station go from a mono to a stereo signal, a possibility with
the purchase of new wireless technology. He would also like to apply for WHFI to become a
member of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

Reflecting on his dreams for what WHFI can grow to become, Allen also finds pride in
what the station already is, and how far it has come. “We don’t just reach nearly every part of
Monroe County. We come in well in many parts of Greenbrier County. We have great signal all
the way into Princeton, and we reach pretty far down I-64 heading toward Beckley. We get into
Monroe, Summers, Greenbrier, Raleigh and Mercer counties, plus across the state line into Giles
County, Virginia. Three years ago, pretty much all we had was a playlist and if people listened
often, they would actually know what song would come up next. Now we have much more
original programming. We’ve come a long way.”

Jeffrey Kanode is an ordained United Methodist pastor who serves in Alderson. He has
published pieces in various newspapers including The Charleston Gazette-Mail and in the
national publications Alive Now and Sacramental Life. His work has also been featured on West
Virginia Public Radio, Q99 WSLQ, and Traveling 219.com. He has published four books: A Young Pastor, Becoming Pastor, This Pastor, and American Aspirations: A Reimagining. He is
the “Jeff K” who hosts “Keeping The Faith” on Classic Hits 106 WHFI.


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