Through the laughs, the musings, the opinions and the occasional tears, there is something about a local morning radio show that brings people together.
“There is definitely a family feel to it,” Janet Rose, co-host of The Morning Line with Larry & Janet on WLNI 105.9 FM, said. “It is amazing the personal relationships you develop with listeners, [most of whom] you haven’t even met.”
The daily talk show—on air weekdays from 5:30-9 a.m.—helps get the conversation going in the community, taking on the latest national, global and even local news with good humor, strong opinions and the familiar sort of personality and sensibilities you can’t get from a national program.
“We don’t want to just talk about politics,” Rose said, adding that while that is an important part of the news, she doesn’t want to induce “political fatigue.”
“We also want to talk about the things that are going on in our community and that has been a really big part of why the show has resonated.”
The show is not just about the two people behind the mic, it’s a format that invites audience members to be participants.
“The listeners are as much a part of putting this show together as we are,” said Rose’s co-host, Larry Dowdy. “We are just trying to keep it on track.”
The pair is approaching two years together on the air.
“Even now,” Dowdy said, “I am still fascinated by our listeners. They are smart. … Many times even though we come in here prepped for a show they might mention something that I missed.”
The hosts find themselves relating to their audience, sharing similar life experiences and struggles, as well as plenty of laughs—running jokes abound, keeping faithful listeners engaged. Dowdy will frequently try to trigger a response from Rose, knowing she gets heavily invested into political discourse, occasionally drawing her to toss a highlighter in his direction. One really cannot predict where the conversation will go.
“Sometimes I will just throw something out there, not really expecting a response,” Dowdy said, “and then it is like we’ve opened the barn and all the horses run out.”
Bringing people together—who would otherwise be solitary in kitchens or cars across the area—in this way helps residents to engage with important conversations, and to unpack heavier ones, like the slew of national tragedies the country has faced as of late, in a communal way.
“There is a serious side to a morning show,” Dowdy said. “There are just some mornings you hate having to talk about it so you know you have to, but you do it, you go on and it is the listeners who help you through it.”
Sometimes it is a personal struggle. Other times, it is a local tragedy, like last year’s murders of WDBJ7 reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward. (WDBJ7 is a media partner of the station.)
“The community will never be the same,” Dowdy said. “At the same time, we all grew from it.”
National reporting can surely capture the moment, but it cannot reflect the same intimacy of local coverage. That is why it has been important to Leonard Wheeler, president and general manager of Wheeler Broadcasting (which includes WLNI), to devote resources to local news personnel.
Around six people work exclusively on content for WLNI and across his company Wheeler has approximately 90 full- and part-time employees.
“It is pretty easy to do a talk station and probably just plug into national syndicated hosts but then you really don’t have that emotional connection with your marketplace,” Wheeler explained. “With Janet and Larry and the news staffing and resources that we have, that to me is the most important part of the station.
“It is really quite striking in a lot of markets how few staff a lot of radio companies have.”
WLNI has a rich history in the community—it started in 1994 as Lynchburg’s first full-time talk FM station. And while more media companies are scaling back at the expense of local resources, Wheeler, who comes from a family of broadcasters, maintains his “high media commitment.”
“You really come from the standpoint that you serve the communities that you are in first and foremost and if you do that well enough hopefully you have a profitable business that sustains itself and keeps going forward,” Wheeler said.
WLNI is the area home for a number of national programs, including Rush Limbaugh (weekdays noon-3 p.m.), Sean Hannity (3-6 p.m.) and Glenn Beck (6-9 p.m.), but the majority of the company’s investment is in its local news programming, which includes weather updates and some live local sports coverage.
Wheeler knows how important the platform of a local station is and does not take that responsibility lightly.
He encourages hosts to be more than a voice over the airwaves to have a symbiotic relationship with the community.
Many nonprofits lack resources they need to get fully plugged in and often rely on their relationships with local radio stations. For this reason, Wheeler has a dedicated staff member who works with nonprofit leaders and develops relationships with them, offering advice and services when possible.
A commitment to the community like this has led to successful initiatives like WLNI’s “Keep the Giving Going” joint promotion with Berglund Toyota of Lynchburg. The dealership gave away $41,500 to local Lynchburg charities from August to December 2015 with help from listeners. In all, 10 local organizations received funds and got to discuss the importance of their work on the air. The listeners voted on winners who would receive larger donations—but everyone was a winner as all charities received $1,000 or more (the grand prize was $7,500) and the community rallied together to discuss important issues. Another “Keep the Giving Going” is currently underway.
Rose said that community engagement is important, whether it is in the booth or not.
The station interviews community leaders, discussing local issues, but it also hosts events, such as seminars on the importance of foster care.
“[It’s important] to talk about things that are not always comfortable,” Rose said, noting some might have a fear about participating in the fostering process and others might get uneasy discussing mental health.
But that is what family does—it talks through those things and, as a result, is stronger for it.
The Morning Line is also on the TuneIn app, and programming information can be found at WLNI.com.
By Drew Menard