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Radio obituaries popular at W.Va. station

December 17, 1998

Radio ObituariesBy BRYN MICKLE / Staff Writer, Martinsburg

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer




MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Sports may be a life-and-death matter for some fans, but initiated listeners to WEPM sports talk radio might be a bit taken aback by the program that comes on around noon on weekdays.

"Time for the Brown Funeral Home report," a voice intones.

Long before 1340 AM switched over to the sports talk format that has brought the likes of the Fabulous Sports Babe and Jim Rome to Martinsburg, the station was airing daily death notices from Brown Funeral Home in Martinsburg.

For about five minutes each day a radio personality solemnly reads the passings of area residents and gives information on funeral services and visitations.

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While the segment might seem out of place amid frantic debates over who's No. 1 in the football polls or the fate of the Mountaineer basketball team, WEPM general manager Yogi Yoder said the Brown Funeral Home segment is popular with Berkeley County listeners.

"It's local radio at its best," Yoder said. "It's what people have come to expect."

Yoder said WEPM is not alone in running on-air funeral notices and said the practice is common at many small-market radio stations in the South and Midwest.

Charles Brown, the president of Brown Funeral Home, said he started putting death notices on the radio about 30 years ago.

Brown still runs the notices in local papers but said the radio ads appeal to older people who tune into the radio for their news.

"When you reach a certain age, the first thing you look for is to see if your name is in the paper," Brown said jokingly.

Despite WEPM's format change over the past three years from country music to sports talk, Yoder said people still tune in to hear the death notices.

Yoder said WEPM is the third-rated radio station in Berkeley County, but it is hard to pinpoint exactly the popularity of the funeral news segment.

It may be difficult to accurately gauge ratings for a five-minute time period, but Yoder said there is one sure way to find out if anyone is listening to the death notice segment.

"Just mispronounce a name or preempt the segment," Yoder said. "We get those calls right away."

Yoder said the airtime of the death notice segments varies on the weekends, and the station makes sure to run promo spots alerting people of upcoming changes.

Brown, who said he was not aware the station had become sports talk, said the on-air notices definitely appeal to a certain clientele.

"They call us whenever there is an error," Brown said. "So I know somebody is listening."

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