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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.
“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.”