For an individual to work 10 years at
one radio station anymore feels unusual; 20 years is rare. Thirty years with
the same station can seem nothing short of miraculous.
So how to describe S. Rea Crawford’s
staff of WAWZ is shown in a Christmas photo. General Manager S. Rea Crawford is
“Our station went on the air in 1931,”
said Crawford, general manager of WAWZ(FM). “I signed on here in September, 1941
so I’ve been here 70 of those 80 years. It’s been a great ride with a lot of
hard work, struggle, a few tears and plenty of excitement along the way.”
Crawford’s life is so intertwined with
his station that it is hard to talk about one without the other.
The religious-formatted WAWZ, named for
its founder Alma White and community of Zarephath, N.J., started out as an AM at
1380 on the dial, sharing the frequency with WBNX in the Bronx. Eventually its
owner, Pillar of Fire Church, gave up that AM spot and started broadcasting on
FM in 1954.
WAWZ is a not-for-profit ministry.
Though it holds a commercial license and airs spots, the bulk of its income is
derived from listener donations. The parent organization has six U.S. branches
in three states, and owns three radio licenses.
“We started the first Christian
network,” said Crawford. “Our original station was KPOF(AM) in Denver, named
after our church. That went on in 1928 and is still a vibrant ministry in 2011.
Then we came on the air here in Zarephath in 1931, and later we acquired WAKW(FM),
Cincinnati in 1961.”
Crawford at a test bench at the transmitter site. He was in his
mid to late teens when the photo was taken.
For the most part these stations are
programmed locally, although some syndicated shows are heard on all three.
WAWZ, known as “Star 99.1,” airs primarily contemporary Christian music.
Crawford noted that in the 1950s FM
stations were still considered the lesser lights of the radio
“We bought our FM from a newspaper here
that was going to dump it,” he said. “How much did it take to get? Two thousand
dollars. You could junk out the cable and equipment for that much. Offers in
recent years have been into seven figures.”
The station’s budget is about $5 million a year, and it
has 35 employees. Estimated listenership is about 300,000, though Crawford
said that sometimes reaches 600,000.
“As to Arbitron, we show up respectably in New York but very
strong in our Arbitron-rated home market
of Middlesex-Somerset-Union. We show up first pretty consistently
in MSU in our target demographic.”
When Crawford was still in his first
year of high school he joined WAWZ. The attack on Pearl Harbor was three months
in the future.
“I remember going out with our engineer
and our portable equipment to the Roger Smith Hotel to broadcast war bond
rallies,” he said. “We did it for nothing! … We always had pretty tight
security because of the war, and everything was tense.”
A few years later came another tense
moment. On Nov. 17, 1950 a severe hurricane slammed through Zarephath.
blackboard on the right indicates this broadcast was done April 28, 1938.
“It laid our 300-foot self-supporter
right down on the terra firma,” said Crawford. “It was almost unbelievable to
see it proud and perfect one minute, and seconds later a tangled mass of
When the tower came down, only the
heavy timber base remained standing.
“I was 22 and I remember I used to
climb that tower,” he said. “It seemed like Mt. Everest — indestructible.”
Radio World asked him to list his duties over the years. “I
started out with a broom, and quickly moved to steeplejack, helping to erect
towers; proof of performance, all through the night; field intensity
measurements, three-directional array on 1380 kilocycles; assisting in various
FM maintenance and functions; occasional on-air DJ; faced FCC unannounced
inspections, etc. etc.”
He said the station’s board of trustees is “not very
prolific in assigning titles to people.” Until 1973 he was an “at-large radio
“Then when our former GM passed away, I was suddenly
catapulted to GM, with the full responsibilities of general manager.”
Now 84, he oversees all aspects of the station, still
working full time. Station Manager Scott Taylor carries “the gut load” of
day-to-day operation. Crawford also is involved with the ministry of the parent
organization as a trustee and a presiding elder of the Pillar of Fire at
White founded WAWZ and the community of Zarephath. She died in 1946, her legacy
marred by religiously intolerant and racist writings and teachings.
Alma White, founder of the church and station, does not
enjoy a bright reputation in modern histories. Though she was a feminist and is
considered to be the first female bishop in the United States, she also is
remembered for her association with the Ku Klux Klan and her virulent
anti-Catholic, racist and other intolerant public comments.
That’s not the person Crawford recalls.
“I did indeed know Alma White,” Crawford said, “and was the
object of a couple lectures — I deserved it! She died in 1946 when I was 17
He described White as “a stellar individual and a
giant of a Christian. … Back in the 1920s and ’30s, this country was much
polarized concerning race, religion, ethnicity and so forth. She did speak
with certain individuals of many different organizations; but when she realized
some of the serious issues regarding some organizations, she repudiated them
and had nothing to do with them.”
Crawford’s way of looking at the world today
sets the tone for the station.
“New Jersey is the most diverse and
densely populated area of the country, a fascinating market,” he said. “We are well aware that a Christian radio station must be
sensitive to the wide spectrum of racial, religious and ethnic groups in the
most cosmopolitan market of the United States.”
While WAWZ has a religious format, it
does not espouse any particular denomination.
“We believe in the Judeo-Christian
ethic. We have a very broad presentation that is inter-denominational. There
are so many things about this Judeo-Christian ethic that help and edify people
of all backgrounds.
“There are many values and principles
changing in the world today,” he continued. “The fabric of our country is
changing. People who have lived here a long time are reticent to assert values
and standards that are important to traditional America.
“I don’t want to seem ‘holier than thou,’
but I’m talking about being accountable for your own actions and not expecting
the government to bail you out. Put in a solid week for your employer. Be a
good neighbor and stick with the things that have made us a great nation.”
Zarephath was hit hard by
Hurricane Floyd in 1999, as shown. The campus also suffered damage in this
year’s Hurricane Irene, which Crawford described as ‘a nasty girl.’ WAWZ
activated an emergency studio at its tower site and was still broadcasting from
there in mid-October. It plans to build a new and bigger studio rather than
rehab the old one. ‘These hundred-year floods are coming every 12 or
15 years,’ he added.
As general manager for 38 years, he admits
he hasn’t made all the right calls.
“The biggest mistake I have made was being
too cautious, too slow. I should have been more politely assertive over the
WAWZ is only part of the Pillar of Fire ministry, and Crawford
is involved with all aspects of that.
“The work we do here is more important
than any one individual. We support missions overseas, some of which get generous
support. We have a church here that will peak at a couple thousand people from
most parts of the world coming on a weekend. Star 99.1 is heard in over 150
countries through its streaming.
“Also on our several hundred acres are regionally-accredited
Somerset Christian College, Health Clinic, Safe Harbor, Urban Impact and other
ministries. Urban Impact came about because Camden, N.J., has the highest
murder rate in the country. We go in there and bring young folks to our campus
and then upon return, connect them with established churches and groups.”
A long-standing advertiser on WAWZ is
Steve Kalafer, president/owner of Flemington Car and Truck Country Family of
Dealerships, one of the largest such businesses in the state.
“We started on the station about eight
years ago,” said Kalafer, who also spends advertising dollars on New York
“The listeners to 99.1 are so
dedicated. Johnny Stone, the morning man and our voice on the air, has a loyal
following and the station really delivers for us. When you purchase media, it’s
supposed to be by the numbers. But in our case, the management and staff of the
station are a big part of our decision. It’s clear that there is leadership
there and a consistency of staff that really makes me feel comfortable.”
Station Manager Scott Taylor said, “Rea
is an inspiration to the staff, not just because of his longevity, but also
because of his personality. He’s very much engaged in this industry and as
excited about radio today as he was the first day he showed up for work. When
we get visitors here on a tour, he loves to show off his old-time radio
collection. He gets a thrill out of sharing his passion.”
has faced its share of weather-related troubles over the years. Rea Crawford is
shown in 1950 inspecting damage from a hurricane that toppled the upper portion
of one of the station’s self-supporting towers. WAWZ was an AM at that time.
WAWZ was named Station of the Year in
2007 and 2008 by the National Religious Broadcasters. In 2008 the NAB presented
WAWZ with the Crystal Radio Award for Community Service. The Christian Music
Broadcasters Association awarded WAWZ Station of the Year in 2010.
Hear WAWZ streamed at www.star991fm.com.
At that URL one also can hear HD2 channel “The Voice,” which features spoken-word
programming. HD3 channel The Energy” offers a more intense variety of Christian
Now a sprightly 84, Crawford encourages young folks to
appreciate what they have.
“Everyone is worth something, not just
in the sight of God, but in the sight of family and community. Strength and
legitimacy come from what you are doing.” He also confesses to being frustrated
with some aspects of the American culture.
“A lot of kids are technically smart,”
he said. “They understand the iPods and the computers, but ask them about
Winston Churchill or FDR! We learn from history, and those values will be lost
if we don’t wake up.”
Ken Deutsch says his radio career paralleled that of Rea Crawford,
minus the longevity and the talent.