‘Little Buddy Radio’: Gilligan’s Legacy

Denver Foundation LPFM plays music and aims to help autistic children
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In just about every one of the 98 “Gilligan’s Island” episodes and the subsequent movies, at some point you knew that the Skipper was going to say to Gilligan, “Hey, little buddy!” It was a term of endearment that reflected the family-friendly nature of a series that ran three seasons on the CBS television network.

Even though actors Bob Denver and Alan Hale Jr. have passed away, their warmth lives on via “Little Buddy Radio,” aka WGAG(LP) in Princeton, W.Va., run by Denver’s widow Dreama. It is heard locally at 93.1 MHz and streamed online at Denver’s website.

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Charlie Thomas and Dreama Denver

“When you’ve been on TV for most of people’s lives, they assume you’ve made residuals and you’re sitting on mountains of money,” said Denver in a phone interview.

“Bob and the other castaways never saw a penny after they were paid for the first two runs of the show. He and I had a severely autistic son, Colin, whom we cared for to the exclusion of everything else for 21 years.

“So we knew in a personal way the financial and emotional drain of caregiving. We wanted to help families in similar situations, and when we heard that the FCC was opening a window for regular folks to apply for an LPFM license we thought that this would be our chance.”

In 2004 Bob and Dreama Denver formed a non-profit corporation to raise money and awareness for autism. They used their newly acquired low-power (and low-budget) station to broaden their mission.

“Bob and I worked together on the station only about eight months before he was diagnosed.” He died six months later with throat cancer.

“This station and our goal of helping autistic children and their families are his last, most personal legacy.”

Bob Denver passed away in 2005. Dreama has been running the station out of her home with little help since then.

“The station saved me,” she said. “I was so lost, and to be able to dive into the music and fill up my days with that whole process helped me get through my grief. Music is my passion, and on the station we play all genres of music from every decade. I’ve spent untold hours, days and months personally building a very eclectic playlist.”

The station was fully automated when RW spoke with her, but Denver is changing that. In recent weeks she brought in Charlie Thomas, a radio and TV veteran from Missouri, to expand its programming.

“He’s perfect for this market,” said Denver. “Now he’s also joined me in the cause of fighting autism.”

The station has added a live morning show called “Sunny Side Up,” focusing on “the positive aspects of this community, as well as resources for families with special needs children. We’ll also have celebrity interviews and local interviews, too. We plan to make radio personal, the way it used to be.”

Thomas formerly was with country-formatted KDRO(AM), Sedalia, Mo.

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“Dreama was someone I interviewed on my show, and then we had some followup email and conversations,” he said. “I decided it would be good to work with her because we have similar outlooks about radio. Over the years I’ve been involved with other causes such as raising money for Honor Flights to help veterans visit war memorials. We raised around $280,000 here in a small town of 21,000.”

Igniting the radio spark

“I grew up around here,” said Dreama Denver.

“It was a time when radio was very community-oriented. We had a program called ‘Requestfully Yours.’ You’d hear a DJ, and you’d go to a dance and he would be there; and growing up, that was very exciting. Radio catered to you wherever you were, and I don’t think it does that anymore. I hear listeners complain that radio today seems canned and very corporate.”

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The late Bob Denver, shown with his son Colin.

She worries about the future of the radio industry. “Now people can program the music they want to hear on iPods. They can plug it right into the car and they really don’t need radio.

“In my mind, what will make radio relevant is that it’s giving you what you can’t get on your iPod. You can have the playlist of your dreams, but you won’t find out things you need to know about where you’re living.”

Little Buddy Radio — “LBR” for short; no one seems to use the legal call letters other than when required — plays a very broad list of music for adults. There’s no rap or heavy metal, but one might hear lesser-known tracks by Luther Vandross, a live performance of Eric Clapton singing “Layla” or an otherwise unexposed group that Dreama Denver happens to like.

Charlie Thomas designed and built the new studio. Denver also has worked with local contract engineer Wayne Boone.

The Denver Foundation

“Little Buddy Radio” is devoted to helping the community, but autism is its primary focus.

According to human services company ResCare, autism is really a group of related diseases that can affect a person’s ability to interact. A person on the “high functioning” end of the autism “spectrum” might simply need help interpreting the non-verbal language of others. At the other end, a child or adult may be unable to communicate with others and may engage in yelling, rocking back and forth or other repetitive behaviors.

The Denver Foundation sees its mission as providing comforts to make the lives of autistic people a little easier.

“We can’t save the whole world,” Dreama Denver said, “but we can save a piece at a time right here.”

The couple’s original plan was to build assisted living homes, or at least places where parents of autistic children might go for a short respite from their stressful lives. These ideas turned out to be a little too ambitious financially.

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“Maybe we can’t afford to build a string of homes, but we can provide wheelchairs and things like that. If your autistic child is incontinent, and a washer and drier are what you need to get through your day, then that becomes a very big deal.”

ResCare’s executive director is Chrissy Riggins. “We provided services to Dreama’s son and got to know her that way,” she said. “We’ve helped her by holding an auction that raised about $10,000 for the cause. With that money, for example, one person received a costly shower chair as well as a generator to power his ventilator.

“Dreama is a big-hearted person. She cares about people with disabilities and she is a great mom as well as a great advocate.”

Non-profit way of life

Gary Bowling is a fan of “Little Buddy Radio,” and his non-profit artist venue, “House of Art” in Bluefield, W.Va., held its own fundraiser for Dreama’s non-profit organization recently.

“I went to school with Dreama,” said Bowling. “She really makes a difference to our depressed area. By your actions alone will people know you. She and Bob could have lived anywhere in the country, but they chose to come back here where Dreama has her roots. They honor this community and that’s a wonderful thing.”

“What I’m doing is very satisfying,” said Dreama Denver. “I’m grateful to my late husband Bob and I believe he sends me angels. You have to open your heart and learn to live again. This station is a wonderful gift in my life.”

Find “Little Buddy Radio” online at bobdenver.com.

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