Chris Runion, a digital media student at Eastern Mennonite University, recently reclaimed about 60 records from the old WEMC archives for the southern gospel station WBTX, where Runion mans a weekly "Retro Countdown" program. (Photos by Randi B. Hagi)

WBTX southern gospel archive grows thanks to re-discovered WEMC gems

Earthly runners may be healthy, but a better race is on – won’t you come and join the runners, Maranatha Marathon … 

The upbeat, jazzy melodies of this 1979 Honeytree track recently graced the airwaves of WBTX, a southern gospel radio station just down the road from Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) in Broadway. That song was played directly from an old vinyl record, thanks to the archival efforts of EMU digital media major Chris Runion, who works part-time at the radio station. The record itself is one of about 60 that he reclaimed from the archives of WEMC – the radio station formerly run by EMU students and staff.

The reclaimed albums are all southern gospel and early contemporary Christian music that fits with WBTX’s repertoire. One of Runion’s responsibilities is running the hour-long Retro Countdown every week, showcasing southern gospel tracks from the past 50 years. But the nature of the program presents specific challenges.

“I have discovered that, unfortunately, southern gospel is a genre that is not very well archived. Most of the music from the sixties, seventies, and eighties exists only on vinyl record – many albums were never released to cassette or CD unlike practically all other genres,” Runion explained. 

Chris Runion (right) with Jim Snavely, WBTX’s program director, holding a few of the records salvaged from EMU’s Astral Hall.

“One of my biggest fears is that if this music, this southern gospel history, is not preserved nor introduced to new generations of listeners, it will be lost entirely,” said Runion.

Last summer, Runion began a quest to expand WBTX’s southern gospel archives, starting with just about 100 records. Today, they have close to 700, thanks to donations from private collections, purchases, and thrift store finds. He came across the WEMC records during an audio production class in the station’s former broadcasting home, Astral Hall, the original planetarium and astronomy society building on the top of the Hill overlooking campus. 

Runion got in contact with Matt Bingay, the executive director and general manager at WMRA, which manages WEMC as a classical music station.

“I just wanted to offer perhaps a way that these records could see new life and be of use again, if they’re currently not in use,” Runion wrote. 

“I am thrilled that WBTX is interested in preserving and using them. Please proceed with my enthusiastic support,” Bingay responded. 

Runion has since catalogued the records and added them to WBTX’s collection, to play directly from the vinyl and dub, or transfer, tracks over to CDs for future use. 

“The records themselves are in great condition,” Runion said. “The few records that I have played from the WEMC collection sound amazing.”

Join the Discussion on “WBTX southern gospel archive grows thanks to re-discovered WEMC gems

  1. I am not regularly in contact with WBTX since I live out of the area (No. Va.), but we are often there since my husband is a Broadway native and I as well as he have siblings living in the area (also we both went to EMU in the 70s). I did not know WBTX’s status as a southern gospel station since it’s been a long time since I tuned it in. This article caught my attention because I am an aficianado, not so much of southern gospel (although I enjoy it), as of CCM, especially early CCM, since its “coming of age” corresponded with mine. What a time it was. I’m writing with two questions: Are there programs on the station that are devoted to early CCM? And I have a pretty good collection of old records from the era if you’re interested in anything in particular.

  2. So glad that you are doing this. I listen to KPDQ fm from Portland, OR. They have southern gospel music every Sat. night from 7 -10 pm. I hope they have kept files over the years. Also Bill Gaither has done much to preserve the music & groups. Thank you for your part in the preservation. Ruby Supina

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