Jennifer Roth (left) was WFAE's first general manager, from 1981 to 1987. Fiona Ritchie was a volunteer who started "The Thistle & Shamrock" show. This photo of them together was taken in the studios at UNC Charlotte during a 1983 fund drive.

WFAE Celebrates 40 Years

Support from Ballantyne residents has helped the radio station grow

By Constance Brossa | Photos courtesy of WFAE

If you missed the 40th-anniversary celebration of public radio station WFAE at Spirit Square in uptown Charlotte, don’t fret. The party has just begun. Events marking the station’s debut on June 29, 1981, are spread throughout 2021 and 2022.

Jeff Bundy, WFAE’s executive director of branding and engagement and a Ballantyne resident, says one event of note will be a virtual step challenge called Charlotte Walks in the first quarter of 2022. No doubt, many of Ballantyne’s residents will be among the participants. After all, says Bundy, “The 28277 ZIP code is consistently one of the most generous ZIP codes that donate to WFAE — both in the number of donations and the total amount donated.”

Not surprisingly, cinecast events at Regal StoneCrest at Piper Glen are popular with residents, says Bundy. And WFAE reporters regularly cover stories about Ballantyne.

Oh, and Bundy says Ballantyne-area listeners seem to really love “Charlotte Talks With Mike Collins,” which has been airing since 1998.

“As we celebrate our past, we are also celebrating our present,” Bundy says proudly, “and looking forward to our future. More people than ever are listening to and supporting WFAE. We have more than 300,000 listeners and comparable numbers for our website.

Mike Collins (left), host of "Charlotte Talks," facilitates a discussion during a 50th anniversary celebration in June 2021. Joining him are Steve Crump, WBTV; Larry Sprinkle, WCNC; Mary Newsom, freelance writer; and Tom Hanchett, community historian.

“While our audience is growing in size, it is also growing in diversity … and we are close to having 25,000 contributors. We expect to end our 2021 fiscal year with $8 million.” Bundy notes that this will be WFAE’s sixth consecutive year of record donations and contributed revenue.

In April, the American Journalism Project awarded a $590,000 grant to WFAE for its overall fundraising efforts and investments in journalism. The grant is the largest in WFAE’s history, says Ju-Don Marshall, chief content officer and executive vice president. It will fund two new positions: a chief revenue officer and a revenue events leader.

Meanwhile, WFAE has been enhancing its efforts to ensure its internal culture is inclusive and to “make race-and-equity reporting a permanent part of what we do at WFAE,” notes Marshall.

In a June 2020 survey, listeners responded about far-reaching issues such as elections and local government. From that survey, WFAE learned eight out of 10 listeners considered issues of race and equity to be extremely important.

That response, notes Marshall, is part of the reason WFAE has bolstered its race-and-equity initiative “to make sure that when people listen to WFAE that they hear all of our communities.” The station has assembled a race-and-equity team, consisting of three journalists who work with Report for America to cover the issues.