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Jim Price: A Life Full of Radio and Faith

He co-founded Sterling Communications and embraced low-power FM radio

Part of what we do in Radio World is tell you about people in our business — their opinions, their triumphs and challenges.

We also report when they die. This is a sad function but in my view an important one, not only to let you know that a member of our technical fraternity has passed but to provide a moment to appreciate their contributions.

One such was Jim Price, a founder of broadcast engineering firm Sterling Communications in Ringgold, Ga. He passed away earlier this year.

His son, Jim III, told company clients in an e-mail that his father “was walking to his station, WBFC(LP), on a nice wooded trail on his property between his house and the studio, and he had a heart attack and was dead instantly.

“Many of you loved my Dad,” he wrote. “Many of you are ‘on the air’ with a radio or TV station because of the burden God placed in your heart, and the assistance you received from my Dad, long before I came on board. … Walking the National Religious Broadcasters convention floor every year with my Dad was always an honor because of the heartfelt thanks he always received from so many of you.”

Radio as God’s tool

Jim Price lived a full radio life.

His career started in the early 1960s when as a teen he put together a pirate station in his parents’ garage. Soon he was working in Detroit as a DJ and engineer.

His first licensed station was KWFC, which went on the air in 1969 — a full 100,000 watts — at Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Mo.

“That was an exciting time for him,” son Jim recalled, “and I remember him happily bustling by me as I, as a kid, roamed all over that station. I remember watching the big, noisy ‘teletype’ machine and drawing on the chalkboard in the conference room. Winter was excellent; it meant days at a time of being snowed in with my Mom, little brother and Dad at the station (three floors! huge for a kid!) while he kept it on the air.”

In the 1970s Price moved to Chattanooga, Tenn., to work for CLW, a subsidiary of gospel ministry organization AMG International; then in 1979 he and fellow AMG executive Abe Thiessen left to launch Sterling Communications.

The engineering firm is active in religious broadcasting and runs the website, which describes a broadcast station as “one of the finest communications tools God has ever given to us.” Sterling now has around 800 clients, including some with whom the elder Price had relationships dating to the 1960s and ’70s.

Jim Price is shown shaking hands with then-Rep. Nathan Deal, left, during a visit to discuss LPFM (Deal is now governor of Georgia) and at right with an unidentified colleague on a tower job site.

“I don’t know how many total stations my Dad played a role in starting, AM and FM, but I’d say it’s many hundreds,” Jim told me.

“We couldn’t drive anywhere without him saying ‘There’s the tower(s) for W— or K—. We got that station on the air in 19–’ and so on and so on. He knew everyone in the radio industry in most markets, it seemed like.”

Price also was a member of the Society of Broadcast Engineers and National Religious Broadcasters; he attended the NAB Show for years. He was married to wife Pat for 43 years and is survived by four sons, a daughter and 11 grandchildren.

That count doesn’t include his other “baby,” LPFM station WBFC. Price was an active low-power supporter and, after suffering a stroke in 2005, he turned full-time to working on the station, hosting a three-hour gospel and bluegrass program with local talent.

“This seemed to make him famous in the local southern gospel music scene, and a lot of his listeners and artists he played attended his funeral,” Jim told me. The station remains on the air, run by volunteers.

Jim Price had qualities we recognize as common to so many fine engineers.

His son describes him as “clearly an obsessive engineer who needed me as an ambassador to the public. He studied, tweaked, checked for waivers, planned directional antennas, talked with commission staff and generally obsessed over the work he did for you, but wasn’t real great at explaining the ‘why’s and how’s’ of the project when completed.”

In addition to broadcasting and engineering, he had another calling: his faith.

“As I worked for Dad longer and met many of his old cronies, friends and clients,” Jim Price III recalled, “I began to see that Sterling is really just a cog in the gear that does a work for God.

“It was a sweet sight to see the church packed to say goodbye to my Dad. However, we know we’ll see him again.”