Ralph Deward Epperson was born in Ararat, VA and attended Brevard College at Brevard, NC. He graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree from John Brown University in Siloa Springs, AR. He worked for several years as a radio engineer at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C.
WPAQ was the brainchild of Ralph Epperson, a college graduate in his twenties who had been fascinated by radio since his teens. With help from his father Harry, a farmer from nearby Ararat, VA, Epperson built the brick and timber headquarters for his AM station in Mount Airy, NC. Over sixty years later, this building remains the home of WPAQ. In 1948, on Groundhog Day, WPAQ went on the air broadcasting at 10,000 watts. Epperson pledged to reflect the cultural and musical values of the people in his station’s listening area and preserve local talent, emphasizing a format suitable for the whole family including Christian programs. He never broke that pledge for more than five decades.
Ralph Epperson soon began the Merry-Go-Round programs which originated in the radio station. It became so crowded that the program had to move to the Pick Theater downtown. The merry-Go-Round program still exists and is now at the Downtown Cinema which is operated by the Surry Arts Council. In 1954 Ralph Epperson married Earlene Shaw.
Ralph, along with his wife Earlene were the owners of WPAQ and WBRF, a 100,000 watt FM station in Galax, VA which covers over 40 counties and four states – North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Tennessee. The Eppersons have a daughter, Deborah Stringer of Galax, VA who now manages WBRF, and a son Kelly Epperson who, with his wife, owns WPAQ.
Over the years, Ralph Epperson received many awards, including an honorary doctor of law degree from John Brown University. Governor Jim Hunt of North Carolina presented him with the Governor’s Business Award in the Arts and Humanities and the National Council for the Traditional Arts in Washington D.C. honored him with “A Rose While You Live” award in honor of a half century of musical excellence. He received the Award of Merit from the International Bluegrass Music Association and the Brown Hudson Folklore Award from the North Carolina Folklore Society.
Epperson was given special recognition from the American Folklore Center of the Library Of Congress for work in preserving the musical heritage of the area and making recordings available for the archives of the Library of Congress. The NRB also presented Ralph their Milestone Award for Religious Broadcasting. He was awarded the Outstanding Achievements as a Legend in Media by Mount Airy Visitor’s center. Ralph was presented the Cultural Heritage Award by the Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce and presented the Key to the City by the Mayor of Mount Airy. One award he was most proud of was being inducted into the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in April 2006, just before his death. Ralph donated his prized collection of live recordings to the Southern Folklife Collection at the Wilson Library at The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.