Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Smashing Pumpkins "Disarm" (part 2)

(This is Part 2.  You can read Part 1, here)

WABN was going off the air.  It was our last day.  Goodbye.  Gone.  Kaput.

I'd been on the air for 6 years, from 1994 to 2000.  Sometimes for 10 hours a day.  I worked and lived with a close knit group of friends who'd become family.  We'd fought for the station.  But the fight was over and it was time to say goodbye.

I helped orchestrate the final run-up, giving every DJ and friend of the station one last chance to step up to the mic, say something that mattered, and play one last song.

I rehearsed, in my head, what I wanted to say, and how I wanted to leave the airwaves.

Six years earlier, I'd quit my job in television in a power struggle with the boss.  He demanded that I leave my part-time job at WABN.  I told him he couldn't tell me how to conduct my private life.  My check-mate move, was to quit.

"Bold move," said Rita later that afternoon.  "Now what?"

Rita and her husband Craig owned WABN, an AM/FM combo in Abingdon, Virginia.  They literally did everything related to the station---sales, billing, maintenance, Craig went on-air, called local sports games.  This was true DIY independent radio.

Part of the reason they were so fiercely independent, had to do with the mess they'd just come out of.

They had purchased the station several years prior, with a partner (a relative).  After only a few years in, the partner tried to sell the station without their input or consultation.  He had controlling interest.  He fired Craig and Rita, and expected them to quietly hand over their stock.  Craig and Rita were doing no such thing.  What's more, the partner incorrectly thought he could sell the station without their consent.  He was wrong.

A protracted legal battle began, for control of the station.  Craig and Rita were barred from even entering the building.  Two years passed.  The station suffered from inattention, the partner tired of the fight, and finally, he turned control of the station over to Craig and Rita.

And that's when their troubles really began.

The damage had been done to the station's billing.  They were deep in the red.  The creditors were lining up.

When Rita said to me, "Bold move," she knew what might be on the horizon.

Shortly after I went to work full time at WABN, the station filed for bankruptcy.

Let me tell you this---I learned more than I ever care to know about bankruptcy court in the years that followed.

Craig and Rita scraped and fought to bring in enough billing to keep the station alive, while working tirelessly to come up with a plan they could present to the bankruptcy court for a way to emerge and go forward.

The partner, meanwhile, because he was a creditor, re-entered the picture to resume his efforts to sell the station to another party.

 . . . Let me stop right here and say that the story of the 6 years of bankruptcy court is a long and complicated journey, that I hope Craig and Rita publish some day.  Suffice it to say, that despite community support, a fight at the FCC level, arguments before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and a truckload of craft, smarts and passion, we lost this fight.  The station, which had been an award winning community radio outpost, would land in the hands of a large radio group who would use the FM signal to rebroadcast their syndicated Talk Radio station.  They would simply turn the AM off.

I could have walked out the door of WABN the day Craig and Rita told me they were filing for bankruptcy.  But I didn't.

I believed in them, and I believed in their mission.  I believed in a radio station that let teenagers call in and have their voice heard.  I believed in a station that let the DJs pick the music.  I believed in a station that talked to you, not at you.  And I believed in Craig and Rita themselves---that their fight was right and that it was worth fighting.

We were winding through the final day at WABN.  Friends of the station had a chance to pop on air and pick a last song.  The part-timers were on now, with their last words.  Craig and Rita's adult children (who made up the rest of the full time staff) would have their say, followed by Craig and Rita themselves.  Then the transmitter would be shut off.  Right before the family spoke, I would have my turn.

I had written out my speech.  I wanted it to be good.  I didn't want to cry.

I talked about how I had come to be at WABN.  About what I had learned by living in the presence of people with dedication, passion and conviction.

I said that I learned the importance of fighting for something you believe it.  The point is not to ask whether you can win, it's to stick with it if you are right.

And I ended my 6 years of independent radio the way it started.  I played "Disarm."

That was 12 years ago, and it's still painful to write about.  In fact, when I started this blog I knew that the "Disarm" stories were on the top of the list of posts I needed to write.  I've been putting them off for 3 years.

Twelve years later, WABN FM still rebroadcasts Talk Radio.  WABN AM is still silent.  And the building where Craig and Rita and their kids and I worked for all those years, remains empty and unused, the fields around the brick building are overgrown, the whole thing abandoned.

Nothing has come to Abingdon to replace WABN  (the Talk Radio station is located 20 miles away).  No station does high school sports.  No station has a request radio program.  No station shows up at the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life or any of the other dozens of charitable events that WABN supported.

I don't live in Abingdon anymore, but I am certain that the community is less, for not having WABN.

But because of it, because of them, I am much more.  And I am thankful for that . . .

Hear the song on Youtube.



  2. Mr. Finn:

    I came across your blog entry from November 21, 2012 “Smashing Pumpkins ‘Disarm’ (part 2)”. Like you, I worked for WBBI and WABN in my younger days. Since you no longer are in the Abingdon area, I wanted to make contact with you and let you know that WABN is alive and well with a studio on West Main Street in Abingdon. The station has a Facebook page and a website at It broadcasts all Abingdon High School football, basketball, and baseball games on AM/FM and the worldwide web. In 2011, the station broadcast the Abingdon Midget League Football championships. It covers the annual Virginia Highlands Festival, broadcasts local parades, and offers high school students the opportunity to produce a show called "On the Wing". Interestingly, only 11 days before your blog entry, the station had just wrapped up another season of covering Abingdon High School football, and basketball season was on the horizon. Our community is not any "less" or without a local voice. It may be different than the WABN you knew, but it performs a valuable service to the town, nonetheless.

    Please know that I do not mean for this email to be an attack on you and your views, but rather a response to some inaccuracies that you reported as fact in your blog. WABN may still be found at 1230 AM and also at 103.3 FM. It is true that Bristol Broadcasting took 92.7 FM out of Abingdon. However, WABN FM does not "rebroadcast Talk Radio". Both AM and FM simulcast "Good Time Oldies." "WABN AM is still silent" is inaccurate. Abingdon Church of the Nazarene acquired WABN AM from Bristol Broadcasting, returned it to the air within 1 year of the station "going dark", and put the oldies format into play. They originally broadcast out of the old studio on Radio Drive and covered Abingdon High School sports. When Bristol Broadcasting sold the tower and surrounding land to a cell phone carrier, the church moved the studios. The Radio Drive studio was empty for a period of time and the owners eventually tore down the structure. The building did not exist at the time of your blog post and had not for some time.

    When the church sold WABN to its current owners, one express condition of the sale was that the station continue to provide coverage of Abingdon High School sports. I have been pleased to help with those broadcasts since 2011. We received a runner-up award for outstanding sports coverage from the Virginia Association of Broadcasters in 2012 for small market stations.

    If you have a chance, please listen to our coverage of the Abingdon-Lebanon football game this Friday night at 7:10 p.m. on I volunteer as a color commentator, and we strive for professional sounding coverage. I had the privilege of learning sports broadcasting from one of the best, Craig Sutherland. High school sports has been covered in Abingdon for a long time with perhaps only the 2000-01 school year season being missed due to the license transfer. WABN shows up at charitable events and supports them. There is no request radio program, but the station fulfills every other need that you thought had been missing in our community for 12 years.

    Again, I hope that this email does not sound like an attack. I simply wanted to respond, because Abingdon continues to have local radio. Radio has changed over the years, but I am proud that Abingdon still has local sports coverage and offers some options that will never be available on satellite.

    Ginger Largen
    Abingdon, Virginia