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WEUP: A voice for the Black community in North Alabama

Updated: Feb. 2, 2021 at 2:01 PM CST
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - For more than 60 years, WEUP, the first Black-owned and Black-operated radio station in Alabama, has been a voice for the Black community of the Tennessee Valley.

“It’s nothing but pride, we’re very happy we’re able to do what we do. Everybody here, everybody in the building loves their job,” said Steve Murry, a more than 30 year radio veteran at WEUP.

Leroy and Viola Garrett first signed onto the airwaves on March 20, 1958, their broadcast featured a mix of gospel, sermons, news, and rhythm and blues.

“I’m sure it was very prideful for people to know that they had a voice, they had somewhere they could go to get information on what was going on in our community,” Murry said.

The radio station was in a pink trailer on the grounds of Syler Tabernacle Church on Oakwood Ave. in Huntsville. Nowadays, it’s right off of Jordan Ln., and has been for some time.

“We inherited a historic piece of property to broadcast from and we tried to make sure we continued to be the voice of the community,” Murry said.

In the early years of WEUP, the Civil Rights Movement was at its peak as unrest swept the nation and people marched for change.

“The station played an important role in the civil rights struggle at that time, because they made sure people were informed about what was going on here in North Alabama and what was happening down south in Birmingham and other places like that,” Murry said.

Through the decades, the broadcasters of WEUP have strived to entertain, while informing.

“We are the voice of the community, we’ve been here for a long time and they depend on us for everything that we do,” Murry said. “They look to us for information, entertainment, education, we do provide it 24 hours a day.”

Murry has been at WEUP for roughly half of it’s existence and had just about every job he can. He now works on the gospel side of things and sees himself as a mentor for the younger generation of broadcasters around him.

“At this point I feel like everybody’s parent, all these people are my kids,” he said. “Many of the employees who worked here I trained and worked to develop their talent here at the station.

Over the years WEUP has changed hands. In 1987, Mrs. Garrett decided to sell the station to the people who still own it today, Mr. Hundley Batts, Sr. and Dr. Virginia Caples.

Mr. Batts & Dr. Caples worked to acquire more stations and expand WEUP’s reach into what it is today.

Now as new voices take over the airwaves of WEUP, Murry said they are ushering in the next generation of listeners, while carrying on the legacy of the broadcasters that have come before them.

“For us, we get older, but our listening audience doesn’t,” Murry said. “And we have to make sure we provide for our younger listeners to grow with the station, just like we did with our older listeners. They started listening back in the 50s and have stayed with us all through that time and now we’re trying to grow even more.”

Lashay B is part of the younger generation at WEUP, she’s been at the station for 13 years now, but is taking over a new role on the midday shift. She said she’s honored to be apart of the team there.

“I always say, ‘WEUP, we are Black history,’ and I truly believe that,” Lashay said.

Lashay is a North Alabama native who grew up listening to WEUP. While studying at Alabama A&M University she interned at the station and hasn’t left since. After graduation she began working part-time and then full-time.

“It was so awesome to listen to something growing up and then you’re a part of the history now,” Lashay said.

Another person now apart of the history at WEUP is General Manager Kelly Scott, he joined the team in September of 2020.

“It’s definitely an honor and something I think about quite a bit,” Scott said.

As Scott looks toward the future of the station, he said he won’t forget about the past.

“Up until 1958, in this part of the country, Black voices didn’t really have a platform,” he said. “So I think it’s important to carry on that tradition and keep those values ingrained in what we do around here.”

1958 is a long way from 2021, but not everything has changed. The summer of 2020 brought civil unrest and protests for racial justice and against police brutality.

Lashay and others at WEUP worked to keep their audience informed on what was happening in North Alabama but also across the country.

“We get to tell those stories being Black voices, and I think people can relate to that a little bit more,” she said

Kelly said a major role WEUP and the broadcasters there play is to inform the audience.

“You can’t teach American history without having Black history as a fabric of that, so I think that’s very important whether it’s 1958 or 2021,” he said. “We’re still a part of this community, part of the American dream and it’s important that our values and the issues that affect our community and all the issues we live day-to-day are at least highlighted and people hear them.”

Even when there are changes to WEUP, Scott said WEUP will always be focused on the community.

“The future is definitely taking and acknowledging the pioneers of the past and bringing that now to the future,” Scott said.

You can listen to WEUP on 103.1 FM for Hip Hop and R&B and you can also here the WEUP inspirational and gospel stations on 1700 AM and 94.5 FM.

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