University City

WFAE's station is in the heart of University City

Few area residents realize that tucked away in a nondescript office complex in the middle of University City is a long-time fixture of Charlotte culture, the local public radio station WFAE (90.7 FM).

Celebrating a milestone 30th anniversary this summer, the station has been rooted in the University City area and intertwined with UNC Charlotte all 30 years and longer, dating back to its days as a college radio station broadcasting out of the basement of the Cone Center on the UNCC campus.

According to Renee Rallos, marketing manager for the National Public Radio affiliate, the first on-air date using the call letters WFAE was June 29, 1981.

"There were a couple of iterations in the 70s, with different call numbers and much less power," said Rallos.

WFAE moved to its current location as the first tenants in One University Place, in the shadow of the University City Hilton Hotel, in 1986.

"Beyond the Hilton, there were just cows," said Roger Sarow, president and general manager of the station.

Sarow, at the station since 1988, inherited the title of longest-tenured employee when previous program director Paul Stribling, with the station since its inception, left in May to work with another public radio affiliate in Idaho.

A staff of about 35 employees works out of two suites, one for the broadcast studios and one for administrative functions, in the office complex. The station's annual budget is now just over $4 million.

The station divested from the University formally in 1993, after state budget cuts removed funding from WFAE and five other stations at campuses across North Carolina.

In Charlotte's case, the cuts amounted to about 20 percent of the then $800,000 annual budget.

The final divestiture agreement called for the chancellor of the university to retain rights to appoint one member to the station's 18-member Board of Directors, and this practice has been maintained.

The ties to UNCC run much deeper than that, however. Many staff members are ex-49ers, and over the years a parade of guest speakers and student interns has crossed North Tryon to provide support and expertise to the station.

"We're like first cousins," Sarow said, when discussing the proximity and relationship to the university. He reeled off several areas in which UNCC professors have contributed their knowledge to discussions and news stories.

Rallos, with the station about 15 years, also mentioned that ZIP codes around the University City area are commonly in the top areas for memberships and member contributions.

"Possibly a couple of times being uptown would have been helpful to our news department," Rallos said, "but with technology now, it's not all that important where you are physically located."