On October 17, generations of North Carolina leaders gathered in Chapel Hill to remember UNC System President Emeritus Bill Friday. Friday is widely credited with creating the 16 campus state university system. And, for the last three decades, he was in the homes of UNC-TV viewers as the host of “North Carolina People.” But Friday also had a hand in the establishment of WFAE.
Thirty two years ago, WFAE’s founder, Doug Orr, was a vice chancellor at UNC Charlotte. The school recognized the need for an NPR affiliate in the Charlotte region. The frequency, 90.7fm, was available. So UNC Charlotte applied for a license.
“We put all that together, including the equipment, and we thought we had the staffing, which at the time was 5 full-time staff,” Orr says.
But, at the last minute, two of those positions were lost in legislative cutbacks.
Orr recalls, “The clock was ticking…and had we not met their deadline, the frequency would’ve gone to another entity.”
“We all agreed, let’s go see Bill Friday. We need his help in this critical situation; he recognized one-time opportunities. We made the trip to Chapel Hill…Within a week, we heard back. He said, ‘I have the two positions. Go for it!’”
The FCC and CPB signed off, and the following year, WFAE signed on at 90.7fm.
Orr thinks only the president of the UNC system could’ve found a way to make that exception, understanding that this was a one-time opportunity for public radio in Charlotte.
WFAE has since become an independent station, licensed to the University Radio Foundation, but Doug Orr says the station stands as an important part of Bill Friday’s legacy: “WFAE is probably the best example of his vision and support of public radio.”
Bill Friday died October 12. He was 92.