UPDATE: Due to ongoing interference and construction at the transmitter site, WETS-FM has decided to move its spring fund drive dates to May 20-25.  

WETS-FM is celebrating 50 years of broadcasting excellence, community service and listener loyalty during its annual spring fund drive from May 20-25

WETS-FM 89.5, a local public radio station and National Public Radio affiliate, will begin taking donations for the drive from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday, May 20 through that Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Donations are also accepted anytime online. They aim to reach a donation goal of $75,000. 

“Fifty years is an incredible accomplishment for the station and for the community,” said Chad Barrett, WETS-FM station director. “We’re excited to celebrate half a century of high-quality programming, but we don’t just want to make this about us. We want to celebrate our listeners, because we got this far thanks to them.” 

It all started in 1973 when local radio legend Richard “Little Richard” Ellis was hired to manage a proposed FM station on the East Tennessee State University campus.  

WETS-FM officially began broadcasting as an NPR affiliate on Feb. 26, 1974. In the beginning, the station was on air for just 12 hours a day, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., switching to the familiar 24-hour broadcasting model in 1989.  

exterior photo of the WETS-FM entrance

WETS-FM Studio in April 1994.

One of WETS-FM’s most notable achievements was “Down Home Music,” a series produced by former Program Director Phil Leonard that was once carried by almost 100 stations nationwide.  

WETS-FM has also held special NPR Talent visits for listeners, including former “All Things Considered” host Linda Wertheimer and former “Morning Edition” host Bob Edwards. The station plans to bring more familiar voices to campus in the near future. 

Today, WETS-FM operates at 89.5 MHz in the Tri-Cities Tennessee/Virginia/North Carolina region and online, covering everything from local news and music to iconic NPR programs. This summer, the station will install a brand-new radio tower on top of Holston Mountain, maintaining quality broadcast coverage for listeners. 

“In celebration of our 50th, we want to honor not only our rich history but also our deep commitment to serving our community,” said Barrett. “From financial contributions to years of tuning in, our listeners have supported us through it all, and we will continue to give back. We’re excited to introduce some special gifts to our listeners this year.” 

WETS-FM asks for volunteers to answer phones and take donations, especially in the mornings and evenings. Listeners interested in helping the station or giving a listener testimonial may email barrettcw@etsu.edu or leave a voicemail at (888) 895-9387 expressing interest and available hours. 

Find more ways to celebrate WETS-FM's 50th anniversary at wets.org.  

WETS-FM Timeline

  1. 1973

    February 1973


    Local radio host Richard Ellis

    Local radio host Richard Ellis is hired to manage a proposed FM station for ETSU in February 1973.

  2. 1974

    February 26, 1974


    three students work in the control room of WETS-FM

    WETS-FM begins broadcasting from a converted two-story house on the ETSU campus.

  3. 1980

    The Satellite Age


    a person works on the WETS-FM satellite

    WETS-FM enters the satellite age as NPR becomes the first all-satellite network.

  4. 1984

    January 1984


    a band performs to a crowd at the Down Home music venue in Johnson City

    “Down Home Music,” produced by WETS Program Director Phil Leonard, begins national distribution in January. The series was carried by nearly 100 stations nationwide.

  5. 1988

    November 1988


    exterior shot of the WETS-FM studio

    The new WETS-FM studio is completed in November.

  6. 1993

    Richard F. Ellis Hall


    Richard F. Ellis speaks at a podium

    The station building is dedicated as “Richard F. Ellis Hall” in January in honor of the longtime station manager, who passed away two weeks later. 

  7. 1993

    August 1993


    Wayne Winkler works at a desk inside the WETS-FM studio

    Wayne Winkler is named the new manager in August.

  8. 1995

    July 1995


    an FM translator machine on an equipment rack

    In July, a new translator brings the WETS signal to Lenoir, North Carolina.

  9. 1999

    Presidential Distinguished Lecture Series


    Presidential Distinguished Lecture Series host Linda Wertheimer from National Public Radio

    WETS-FM and the Presidential Distinguished Lecture Series host Linda Wertheimer from National Public Radio. 

  10. 2001

    January 9, 2001


    a screenshot of the 2001 WETS-FM website

    WETS-FM's new website boosts station presence, online streaming, and the ability to accept online donations.

  11. 2001

    Early 2001


    the case for the WETS-FM documentary "The Melungeons: Sons and Daughters of the Legend"

    WETS-FM documentaries on Melungeons win Communicator Awards.

  12. 2004

    30 Years


    Bob Edwards, host of NPR’s “Morning Edition.”

    WETS-FM celebrates its 30th anniversary in spring by bringing to campus Bob Edwards, host of NPR’s “Morning Edition.

  13. 2014

    40 Years


    a group stands holding plaques commemorating 40 years of WETS-FM

    WETS-FM celebrates its 40th anniversary, reflecting on its storied history and thanking listeners for their support through hardship.

  14. 2020

    New Transmission Tower


    people at work on the construction site of the WETS-FM transmission tower

    Loyal listeners of WETS-FM help raise funds toward the replacement of the station’s original transmission tower.

  15. 2022

    Signing Off


    Wayne Winkler works at the WETS-FM control board

    Wayne Winkler retires as the longtime WETS Station Manager but continues to help out with various projects.

  16. 2022

    New Management


    Chad Barrett, station manager of WETS-FM

    Chad Barrett is named the new station manager.

  17. 2023

    June 30, 2023


    Fred Saucemen speaks into a microphone

    Fred Sauceman steps down after a decade as news director on June 30. He continues to work on the “Vital Voices” program as well as record underwriting credits and public service announcements.

  18. 2024

    50 Years and Beyond


    exterior photo of the WETS-FM studio with blue and gold lighting shining on the station's logo

    WETS-FM celebrates 50 years of broadcasting excellence all year long.


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