WMHK-FM is scheduled to go off the air sometime Thursday, ending an era of local Christian personalities and programming that extends back nearly 40 years.
That tugs at the hearts of loyal listeners like Kati Horton of Irmo. Even though the K-Love Radio Network will continue to play contemporary Christian music and programming when it takes over the 89.7 slot on the FM dial, she is sad for the loss of familiar community connections.
“It’s the personalities that you have come to know and love,” said Horton, founder of the website Lexington Mommy, an online resource for families. “It’s the boots on the ground work that they do for the community, and we are not going to have that anymore.”
Columbia International University, the station’s owner, sold WMHK and two sister North Carolina stations, WRCM 91.9 in Charlotte and WRZM 88.3 in Boiling Springs, to Educational Media Foundation, which operates the K-LOVE Radio Network.
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K-Love, based in Rocklin, Calif., and heard on 450 stations nationwide, also has a Christian mission: “To create compelling media that inspires and encourages you to have a meaningful relationship with Christ.” The network reaches 18 million people, according to K-Love officials.
All of the proceeds from the $10.5 million sale will go to the CIU endowment to fund scholarships for students attending the private Christian institution, CIU spokesman Bob Holmes said Wednesday.
CIU President Bill Jones said the sale puts the school “in a stronger position to focus on its core purpose of educating students from a biblical world view to impact the nations with the message of Christ.” And, he said, the radio stations will become part of an expanded outreach through EMF.
But there will no longer be local staff or a local studio in Columbia. The seven employees were provided severance packages, Holmes said, and CIU held an open house shortly after the sale announcement to recognize those who had been associated with the family-friendly station.
Over four decades, many on-air personalities contributed to the popularity of the award-winning station, including Steve Sunshine and Amy Byrd, Rusty Rabon and Judy Labreque.
Holmes, who served as news director for more than 12 years, said many people were touched by the late Rob Gregory, a man who picked up a book and reached out to hundreds of listeners.
“He did the “Radio Reading Room’ where he read a Christian book on the air,” Holmes recalled. “He’d close a chapter each day.”
Loyal listeners would tune day-by-day, “because you didn’t want to miss the next part of the book.”
WMHK was founded in 1976 by a group of Columbia businessmen who approached CIU for assistance in launching a Christian radio station in the Midlands. The call letters stood for “We Make Him Known.”
CIU expanded into North Carolina with WRCM in 1993. WRZM, which reached Shelby, N.C., and the Upstate of South Carolina, was added in 2014.
Through the year, WMHK was the recipient of numerous broadcasting awards, including winning coveted Marconi Radio Awards from the National Association of Broadcasters in 1997 and 2001. Christian Music Broadcasters also named it Station of the Year in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2012.
Horton, the Lexington Mommy founder, said she grew up listening to WMHK, teasing her mother about playing the “salvation station.” But after she became a mother of three, she also fell into the habit of tuning in to WMHK.
“You didn’t have to worry about anything being inappropriate and having to explain something to your children,” she said. “It was just calming and encouraging, from the music to the on-air personalities. It just made you feel good.”
When she launched community expos for mothers and mothers-to-be, she said WMHK was among the first to sponsor and support her business venture.
“When we started planning our first big community event, I talked to and worked with the people at WMHK. They just jumped on board,” Horton said. “Their support was a turning point for us and just then to have faith in me and my business was huge. They became not just friends but family.”
As it prepared to go dark, the web page for WMHK celebrated the work of the non-commercial station founded with a focus on sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“God, we thank you for using 89.7 WMHK in powerful ways over the past 38 years!” the website said. “And, because of our most amazing listening family, we believe that we have left the Carolinas better, families tighter, Christ-followers stronger, and Heaven just a bit bigger than when we began in 1976.”