I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world…
I stop somewhere, waiting for you.
—Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself,” Leaves of Grass
In 1855, Walt Whitman, poet of all-embracing democracy, gave us this joyful description of the sound and practice of free expression.
For the past twelve years, having shuffled a few of Whitman’s letters, Clay, West Virginia’s WYAP-LP 101.7FM—”Yap Radio”—has been giving that proclamation a new full-throated sound all its own.
Founded as an internet station in 2003, WYAP set out to provide a much-needed platform for the people of Clay County. Before WYAP, the area had no local source of information. For the 10,000 people residing in, what is described on the station’s site as, “342 square miles of rural mountainous terrain,” emergencies came and went without notification of the dangers. Existing television and radio outlets said little about their lives.
Then came WYAP: “Our dream has always been to give the citizenry a voice for change.”
In May 2005, after becoming a Pacifica affiliate station the month prior, WYAP began on-air broadcasting with an emphasis on programming designed for community service—opinionated, principled, eclectic, and handled with a family-style ease.
Their website’s programming page is charmingly frank:
“We’d tell you exact show times if we were that organized, but we’re not. Listen in often for great independent programming on WYAP-LP, 101.7FM.”
Local and national newscasts air Monday through Friday between 10AM and noon. Many Clay High School baseball and softball games are broadcast live.
The station’s newly launched Voice of the Appalachian Mountains records and airs public meetings (the County Commission, Town Council, School Board).
Station Manager Andy Waddell says, “Never before have so many been exposed to what our elected and appointed leaders are really doing. One official called to say, ‘You made us look stupid.’ Our response was, ‘No, you made yourself look stupid.’”
WYAP’s daytime schedule features a wide variety of nationally syndicated programs—Democracy Now!, Your Own Health and Fitness, Making Contact, Al Jazeera News, CounterSpin, and Between the Lines, to name a few. Already a Pacifica affiliate when on-air broadcasting began in 2005, the station’s website prominently credits both the network affiliation and the programming aired.
Waddell says, “In the land where the majority thinks FOX Entertainment is news, 101.7FM set out to provide independent news programming that is far to the left. We get complaints. For us, those complaints are an indication that people are listening.”
Music programming fills the nighttime hours. Each evening carries its own particular style, ranging from jazz to Celtic and Native American to classic country, doo-wop and gospel. Friday is the station’s “All West Virginia Day,” featuring West Virginian musicians with an emphasis on Clay County artists, some of whom are listed on a local artists’ page.
The station is run by an all-volunteer staff, supporters from all walks of life. Its broadcasters of all ages—middle school, high school, senior citizen—keep the station on 24 hours, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The station operates on a mere $350 a month, and, while issues abound—outdated and broken equipment, “pitiful internet service,” and limited funds—Waddell reports, “We press on…Yap Radio has worked to secure a strong footprint in the Clay County community we call home.”
And community service is the heart of their work.
WYAP partners with a youthful offenders program administered by the local courts. The station offers community service opportunities, a chance to acquire job skills, computer training, and expertise in public speaking. While reform efforts are not always successful, those that are can be remarkably rewarding.
“Our best success,” Waddell says, “comes from an offender with 37 drug-related felonies who had lost parental custody rights.” After one year of community service at the station, that individual is drug-free, holds a steady job, and still volunteers. “It is wonderful to see development and renewed potential.”
In 2014, the local high school began offering a broadcast journalism class. The station partnered with those six students, providing training in broadcast skills and public speaking. The students, Waddell says, “organized, prepared, and recorded public service announcements, a five-minute weekly school news and information program which aired on the weekends, and, finally, put together 30-minute modern day music and spoken word shows that aired each week.” One student even earned a full scholarship to a local college.
Reflecting on the value of community radio to his home county, Waddell says, “What difference does community radio make? For our 342 square miles of mountain tops and narrow valley bottoms, the answer is, a bunch! We provide the local info you can’t find anywhere else. Our service will continue as long as there is life left in this tiny band of volunteer misfits.”