SYLACAUGA, Ala. – At 7:00 a.m. on May 16, 1948, what is now WYEA-AM was born as WMLS-AM on 1290 KHz.
A license was granted by the Federal Communications Commission on Dec. 23, 1947, and construction began on Jan. 5, 1948. The original Raytheon RA-1000 transmitter, serial number 213, in constant use until being replaced on Jan. 28, 2012, was refurbished and is now on display at the Alabama Historical Radio Society museum in Birmingham.
Studios and offices were originally located above the T&J Café at 11½ W. Second St. in downtown Sylacauga, just behind what is now Magnolias, although the tower and transmitter were north of the city in an area with no address later known as 1 Motes Rd.
Gertrude Tyson, host of the station’s popular Friendly Neighbor program, later explained that “WMLS had its beginning as a dream in the minds of four young Sylacauga veterans. They had all been in the service during World War II, and were attending Birmingham Southern after the war. As was the case with all returned veterans, they were eager to get into something that would be profitable to them and serve their hometown as well. When they learned that a frequency was available for the 1,000 watt station, they got up a few thousand dollars between them and the dream soon became a reality.”
The original investors, who launched the station as the Marble City Broadcasting Co. Inc., were Curtis O. Liles Jr., Henry Judson Darden Jr., Edward J. Smith, and James S. Stowers Jr., with Paul H. Sarvis and Robert H. Arnold also stockholders. Liles, initially Vice President and General Manager, became majority owner and President in buying out later investor Richard L. Scroggins in September 1953. By 1956, operations consolidated in a new building on Motes Rd., and a companion WMLS-FM on 98.3 MHz signed on the air in December 1959. Thereafter, Liles became sole owner until he and his wife retired in 1980.
The timeline since:
- On Sept. 1, 1980, WMLS-AM and WMLS-FM were purchased by Summit Broadcasting Inc.
- On Nov. 30, 1981, new owner Joseph V. Windsor, who had been a senior television group executive in Columbus, Ga., moved the WYEA call letters to Sylacauga from a television station there.
- On April 14, 1986, the Federal Communications Commission approved the transfer of WYEA-AM and WMLS-FM to Action Communications Enterprises Inc., a North Carolina-based radio group headed by David C. Phillips.
- In September 1986, WMLS-FM changed its call letters to WAWV-FM, and, after 37 years in Sylacauga, the familiar WMLS call sign was adopted by a public/non-commercial FM station in Minnesota.
- On June 30, 1993, the FCC approved the transfer of WYEA-AM and WAWV-FM to W.O. Powers of South Carolina.
- On June 10, 1994, W.O. Powers sold WAWV-FM to Alabama Broadcasting Company Inc., owner of WFEB-AM.
- On Feb. 20, 1996, WAWV-FM completed the move of its antenna and was licensed to operate from a nearby Herd’s Gap location.
- On Dec. 23, 1997, Spirit Broadcasting Co. Inc., owned by John H. Vogel, Robert D. Pierce, and Gary Mitchell, purchased WYEA-AM.
- On Nov. 30, 1998, Alabama Broadcasting Inc. sold WAWV-FM back to W.O. Powers.
- On July 1, 1999, W.O. Powers sold WAWV-FM to Coosa Valley Broadcasting Inc.
- On May 8, 2001, John Vogel, who joined the station under earlier ownership in 1983, became sole owner of the company.
- On August 6, 2001, Coosa Valley Broadcasting Inc. sold WAWV-FM to Williams Communications Inc.
- On July 12, 2002, WAWV-FM was granted a license to operate from a new tower southeast of Sylacauga.
- On Dec. 2, 2004, the FCC approved a change to Ashland as WAWV-FM’s city of license.
- On Oct. 26, 2005, WAWV-FM completed its move to Ashland.
- On Jan. 1, 2012, Marble City Media LLC, owned by Sylacauga native Lee Perryman who started his broadcast career at the stations as a teenager, began programming and operating WYEA-AM under a local marketing agreement with Spirit Broadcasting Co. Inc. and applied with the Federal Communications Commission to purchase the station.
- On June 4, 2012, the FCC approved transfer of the license to Marble City Media LLC.
- On Nov. 25, 2013, the FCC granted a construction permit for a new FM translator station on 106.3 MHz in Sylacauga. From a tall county-owned tower in the southwestern part of the city, near the Talladega-Coosa County line, the FM addition began simulcasting WYEA-AM’s programming just before noon on Jan. 19, 2014.
- On March 11, 2014, the FCC granted an application to move from 106.3 MHz to 106.5 MHz, followed by authorization of a power increase on May 7, 2014, and, on June 1, 2014, the frequency changed to 106.5 MHz.
- On August 1, 2016, the FCC approved the sale of WFXO-FM to Marble City Media LLC.
- On Oct. 24, 2016, the FCC approved a change of the city of license to Stewartville.
- On Jan. 12, 2017, WFXO-FM completed its move to back to the Sylacauga area using its 2002 tower location.
Marble City Media has rapidly expanded since 2012, adding new FM signals licensed to Rockford and Alexander City and acquiring an AM station in Alexander City, with primary studios and offices still located on Motes Rd. The company’s six stations reach into parts of more than 20 counties in East Central Alabama.
WYEA was named Alabama’s 2017 Radio Station of the Year by the Alabama Broadcasters Association, was home to the Broadcaster of the Year in 2014, and won ABBY Awards for broadcast excellence in 2013, 2015, 2016, and 2017.
Marble City Media also operates SylacaugaNews.com and and has a construction permit to build another new FM station in the Auburn area.