WPCI: ITS HISTORY, MISSON, AND FUTURE
By Polly Dozier, Liz Meehan, and Casey Skinner
Five and a half years ago, a dream came true for the Mathena family. Paper Cutters Inc. proprietor, and Furman University Grad, Randy Mathena, owner and operator of WPCI 1490 AM, left the business news broadcasting world behind, and switched to a non-commercial format, with a non-stop play list of over 10,000 songs. The only voices heard are FCC mandated interruptions every thirty minutes supplying call letter identifications. This all music format has put WPCI on the Greenville map, with a rapidly rising fan base. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week you can hear everything from reggae, jazz, soft-rock, and even classic rock. It is the first of its kind, a commercially licensed station that plays no commercials and whose mission is just that; to play nothing but music. For over 70 years 1490 has taken a matchless position on the Greenville airways and its history is extremely rich.
In a recently written letter by Wally Mullinax and an interview with Mr. Mathena reported on the deep history of WPCI. It was 1940 when Mr. James E. Jolly, a Royal Crown Cola bottler began WMRC 1490 AM, or “We Make Royal Crown”. In its beginnings, WMRC targeted local textile communities through southern gospel, world transcription library programs, and live country, through Mutual Broadcasting System and NBC’s Blue network. WMRC’s popularity began to increase via Morning man Sid Tear, news reporter Martin Agronski, and Meeting House in Dixie, one of its first religious programs.
When the ban on phonograph records ended in 1943, popular local personalities began to emerge like, Bob Poole with Poole’s Party Line, and Frank Cope with The Ole Lazy Man Show. Local university football games, Saturday afternoon’s The Metropolitan Opera, and the weekday special The Breakfast Club with Don McNeal were huge hits.
In the mid 1940’s, WMRC moved its frequency to 1440 AM to enlarge the station’s wattage to 5000 watts, a move that would forever alter the dynamics of 1490. Immediately, an Atlanta group began controlling 1490 creating WAKE. “Wake Up with Wake” drew a 40 to 50 million listeners via The Major League Game of the Day and with the voice of Bob Fulton, the announcer for the Carolina Gamecocks. In 1953, a key moment in the history of 1490 took place. WMRC, 1440, and WRBC, 1330, merged and President Frank Cope, morning personality Bob Poole, and Bill Arrington, Program Director who had all been employed at WMRC bought WAKE 1490. This was the beginning of 1490 today. The newly purchased station was renamed WMRB playing Furman sports, rock and roll, and when R&B emerged as a popular music form they hastily picked it up as well. President Frank Cope continued to operate the station through the 70’s with CBS News, big band music, Atlanta Braves games, and South Carolina football.
Frank Cope sold the station in 1980 to an associate at the station and its format was replaced with rock. The new owner cancelled the CBS lineup and joined once again with Mutual Broadcasting System, through this drastic transformation WMRB lost mass amounts of listeners. The station went dark. That’s when Randy came into the picture.
It was during college at Furman University where Randy Mathena first learned of his love for radio. Working at the university’s station Randy learned all he could about radio and had always sought after buying a station for himself. Randy set out looking for a station to prove to himself it wasn’t possible. That’s when he found WMRC, a station that was black and waiting for someone to come along and save it. In buying WMRC it was up to Randy to rename the station and claim the four acre plot of land that housed the station. His first two choices, WRMB for rhythm and blues, and WBCH for beach, were taken, so the station was named WPCI for Paper Cutters Inc. WPCI began with business radio until 5 ½ years ago when it’s all music format was ready to begin. With 10,000 songs non-stop, Randy has created a station unlike any other 1
Nestled on four acres in Greenville, South Carolina’s West End district, WPCI 1490 AM currently operates at 1 Kilowatt. The newly renovated cherry wood building lies adjacent to the Reedy River downtown. The completed renovations coincide with the rebuilding of downtown Greenville and the historic West End, which is generating even more conversation about WPCI in the community.
Playing an eclectic variety of music, ranging from bluegrass to reggae and rock to R&B, this format has won high marks from Jimmy Cornelison, a journalist at Greenville News. A simple, yet extremely meaningful, “thank you”, Cornelison wishes to extend to Mathena for providing an alternative outlet for music fans with no commercials. WPCI was recently ranked 16 th out of the 36 South Carolina’s upstate stations 2. For no commercials, no profit, relying solely upon word of mouth, this is one of the greatest achievements WPCI has accomplished. Before any awards or recognitions, Mathena explains that he has fulfilled his dream and mission, “I bought the station for exactly what it’s doing today. That was the goal from day one; to play music. It is a dream come true 3. The dream of continuous music was not just Mathena’s, but rather the listeners’ dream as well 4. The unique format and Mathena’s passion for music made the choice clear for the Greenville Beat to name WPCI 1490 as the best AM station in the upstate.
With awards under their belt, they can look ahead to what the future may bring. WPCI made the decision to go digital, as of Thursday November 17, 2005. Digital format is the future of media and the new digital AM domain will be able to compete more effectively with present day FM. Today AM is home to mostly talk and news programs however, digital AM has superior quality than the present FM domain. Last October, the FCC approved digital broadcasting for U.S. radio using the system iBiquity. “It will take over 10 years to convert all AM and FM stations in the United States,” according to Jeff Jury, V.P. of iBiquity. Another notable aspect of digital radio is that it will give satellite radio a run for its money. Digital radio will not require a subscription fee as does satellite radio, yet has terrific sound quality and the benefits of digital radio are endless. FM radio will have CD quality, and AM radio will be upgraded to the quality of FM.
Digital is the future of radio; clear, precise, and crisp. However, in order to receive this high quality format, listeners must buy digital radios. This, in turn, brings a perfect product showcase to WPCI. Since Mathena’s station is non-commercial, everything is out of pocket. WPCI owner, Randy Mathena, will change Greenville by setting up a shop to sell digital radios to the local community. Although Mathena will not make profit, he plans to use this money and put it back into the station. With digital AM he can break even with advertisements that scroll across the head unit as well as provide the name of the song and artist. Mathena’s son, Ivan, a sophomore at Furman University, comments on what advertisements would scroll on the screen, “not something like TCBY, but Spill the Beans, not Applebee’s but Charlie’s Steak House. This not only generates localism for the Greenville community but also gives listeners what they crave, music.
As far as competition, WPCI stands alone. Nothing can substitute a free non stop music station. Mathena says, “listeners wouldn’t get tired of the music, but they would of satellite fees.” What WPCI offers is unmatched. In fact, Randy has already contacted XM satellite radio to propose adding WPCI, because WPCI, as a single station, encompasses every station XM offers.
What else is in store for the future? Randy plans to utilize the four acres of land on which the current station sits as a recreation park, with fields for soccer, rugby, and polo named Hunter Fields. The station, which faces the fields, will be turned into a restaurant and provide an area for bands to play and broadcast live, through radio and internet, the AM Café.
Ivan, Randy’s son, has visions for the WPCI’s future as well. In addition to establishing WPCI and a music scene in Greenville, Ivan sees an opportunity to make this idea national, while keeping a local market. He has ideas to reproduce Waco’s format in other cities, and create, in theory, “an active museum” with histories of each region and their music in that local area over the past decades.5
And the future of WPCI 1490? It’s all about localism. Randy’s visions for the future will continue to add to Greenville’s charm, and Ivan can only build off of what his father has given to the city. The first mission was to play continuous music, and it seemed impossible, but Mathena comments, “We’ve accomplished it, I consider us hugely successful.” With the obstacles Randy has conquered in the past there is certainly no telling how much he will accomplish in the future. There are no doubts about the future Hunter Fields, or the future of WPCI, it is in good hands.6
Works Cited1. Randy Mathena (WPCI owner/general manager), Interview by Polly Dozier, Liz Meehan, and Casey Skinner, November 15, 2005.>. 2. Jimmy Cornelison, Good Music deserves a thank you, Greenville News, July 5, 2004. 3. Randy Mathena (WPCI owner/general manager), Interview by Polly Dozier, Liz Meehan, and Casey Skinner, November 15, 2005. 4. Lynne Lucas, DJ marches to own beat, Greenville News, January 15, 2001.>. 5. Ivan Mathena (son of Randy Mathena), Interview by Polly Dozier, Liz Meehan, and Casey Skinner, November 15, 2005.>. 6. Randy Mathena (WPCI owner/general manager), Interview by Polly Dozier, Liz Meehan, and Casey Skinner, November 15, 2005.>