The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

Wayne Banks - Hillsville's First Radio Station

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1984

Issue: September, 1984

Editor's Note...This is the last installment in our series of continuing articles about Mr. Wayne Banks. Now we will settle back and keep an eye on Mr. Banks because, as one can tell from his stories, no one can imagine what road he will choose next. Rest assured, however, that he will meet the future with an eye for opportunities and with a hand for his fellow man.

In 1930, Wayne Banks had his own appliance store in Hillsville, Virginia. It was in the old Earley Building. Carroll Drug Store now stands on that site, as the Farley Building burned some years ago. As Wayne was always interested in both music and electronics, he soon came up with a way of advertising his business and enjoying it too. He got a band together called, "The Melody Rhythm Cowboys."

"I had a great long Oldsmobile car, the band would all get in it with their instruments. It had loud speakers on top and the band would play music as we drove along to an engagement at schools in Wythe, Floyd or Willis. People along the way would hear the music, come out to see what was going on and follow us. When we got to the school, we had the crowd right behind us.

I got married in 1931. My wife was a school teacher at the old Laurel Fork School. She was boarding at the Bolt Hotel there in Laurel Fork. The school bus at that time was a wagon pulled by horses. The school paid the driver for the horse feed.

My business was going good and I started tinkering with electronic equipment. I made my own radio station. The signal could be picked up well around Hillsville and it was a good way to advertise my store. A lot of people came to sing and play live music on it. Everyone enjoyed it. I found out though, that it was reaching a lot further than I thought. One day I received a letter from the police department in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They said that although they enjoyed the music, it was interfering with their police band signals, and that I might be receiving a visit from the F.C.C. ( Federal Communications Commission). Well, I didn't have a license for that radio station and it scared me so bad that I took all the equipment out of the store and hid it under some bales of hay in the barn.

It was Hillsville's first radio station. It had a 100 watt transmitter and a loud speaker attached to his store.

As World War II came along, Wayne used his knowledge of electronics to become the first electrician as they were building the Radford Arsenal. "Our crews worked all day wiring a new area so the crews could come in on the night shifts to finish the building. Work was on a round the clock schedule."

From there, Wayne was sent to Tennessee and then the Norfolk Navy Yard. His health could not keep up with the emotional strain of the work and he returned to operating a private electrical service.

He was always abreast of the times and by the time television came around, he, "Got all the franchises I could get hold of."

Wayne became a construction contractor and organized the local Ruritan Club and the Belmont Community Club, where he lives to this day in Montgomery County.

Although "officially" retired, Wayne keeps busier than anyone I know. He has many certificates for his work in the VISTA program as well as others. The last time I ran into him in Meadows of Dan, he had just been to an A.A.R.P. meeting in Floyd and was on his way to meet with an engineer to discuss solar heating (one of his sidelines). I asked him how many times he has retired and couldn't quite remember, every time he did, he just got bored and started something new.

People like Wayne Banks are to be commended for their use of time and energy and their commitment to their communities and the people who live in them.

It seems Wayne Banks has always welcomed the new and saw in it a challenge. If they offered commercial reservations for space shuttle flights, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Wayne Banks name at the top of the list!