In 1976, Valeria and Jim Lee founded WVSP, a non-commercial radio station that broadcast from the small town of Warrenton, North Carolina, about one hour north of Durham on Interstate 85. Prior to founding the station, the Lees had already done extensive work with North Carolina activist organizations ranging from Malcolm X Liberation University, to Floyd McKissick’s Soul City, to their own rural empowerment program, Andamule. From 1976 until WVSP’s closing in 1986, however, the Lees focused their energies on using radio as a tool for political and cultural empowerment in rural northeastern North Carolina.
As Valeria explained in a 2007 interview with SOHP staffer Aidan Smith, she and Jim launched WVSP as a vehicle for “community development…[and] justice work.” The station devoted its programming to progressive reporting on political and social issues and a wide range of musics, most prominently African American genres like jazz and blues, which rarely received airtime on commercial radio in the 1970s and 1980s South. In addition, WVSP embraced a thoroughly democratic approach to programming by giving any local volunteers willing to put in the requisite time and work the chance to host their own programs.
In the following audio excerpt, longtime WVSP staffer and music director Jereann King Johnson introduces Tickle Me Think, a children’s educational show, in an episode focusing on folk songs.
Just remembering WVSP makes me feel good. I first found out about the station from Walter Norfleet at WTVD where we worked. I was sold on it after that. Just the best!
I used to work there as a engineer after graduating from Duke in 1982. I remember Valeria, Jim and Walter Norfleet. I worked with Jim Lee to troubleshoot issues and even was on the air during the fundraisers. I would love to know what they are doing now. I live in Manassas Park, Va now.
The first time I heard Hiphop on FM radio was on WVSP. If I remember right, the show was from 3pm til maybe 5pm during 1983 til sometime in ’86. (WQMG 97.1 was late, limited, and as a commercial station wasn’t as hardcore.) It was tough getting the WVSP signal in Durham, a half mile from NCCU but the show was amazing. Real Hiphop with the mixing, blending, scratching, and obnoxious beats. Loved it! RUN-DMC, Egyptian Lover, Divine Sounds, Mantronix, Full Force, Melle Mel, Ice-T, Roxanne Shante, and on and on.
WKNC had Waxmaster Tory and DJ Soundmachine after dark on weekends. Even WAUG had some Hiphop but they were clearly constrained, as HBCU administrators were among the, “This is not music!” bourgeois. Peace to the WVSP deejays (who names I wish I’d kept track of) who held that time slot down. Hopefully they understand their contribution to the NC Hiphop scene pushed forward great creators like Petey Pablo, Little Brother, Rapsody, DJ Skaz Digga, Havencredible (on Bandcamp.com), and J Cole, among others.