A weird but coincidental connection

So @roboticwrestler tweeted this NPR story:


I responded that I was only surprised by Arizona, Delaware, and Minnesota. (Arizona and Delaware because I thought that there would be more Jewish people than Hindus living there, and Minnesota because I had thought that MN would have had enough Buddhists — thanks in particular to the Vietnamese diaspora — to make that religion come in second.) She then responded:

So here’s my story about WLGI. It is, by the way, totally coincidental; there’s no special meaning to be had here. The year, as I said, was 1988, and Scott Fybush (@neradiowatch) and I were doing the first of our extended (week-long) driving trips to take pictures of radio stations, watch local TV news, collect newspapers and phone books, visit state/provincial capitols, and do other road-trip-ish stuff — a few years later, we would do a 16-day trip halfway across the country that Scott dubbed “The Big Trip”, and we have continued to do these trips sporadically ever since. (We cover less distance these days, because Scott has contacts that often get us inside tours of the facilities we could only see from the outside back in 1998.)

The 1998 trip arose from the confluence of a number of rare events: the Confederation Bridge had just recently opened the previous year, linking Prince Edward Island with the Canadian mainland; CFNB (550 Fredericton) had recently moved to FM; CHSJ (700 Saint John) was about to do likewise; and my mother’s father’s extended family (who are Acadian) were having a reunion in Madawaska, Maine. So Scott and I figured out an itinerary that would take us up US 1 along the Maine coast through Bar Harbor, stopping by the easternmost radio station in the United States, WSHD (91.7D) at Shead High School in Eastport, passing through Calais and crossing the border into New Brunswick, then spending nights in St. John, Charlottetown, Fredericton, Madawaska, Quebec City, Montreal, and Ottawa.

We arrived fairly late to Charlottetown, after exploring the western part of PEI (seeing the little AM station in Summerside, dodging Japanese tourists in Cavendish, visiting the other two AM stations in the province), so the following morning we headed out to the eastern end of the island. As is our wont, we did a radio bandscan while driving around, trying to identify all of the signals that we could hear (and back then, there were a lot more AM signals in the Maritimes — nearly all are now gone), and it became clear that something unusual was happening.

There was some sort of E-skip opening going on to the southwest. One FM signal, on 90.9, particularly puzzled us: it sounded religious (which at the time was forbidden in Canada except for one Adventist-owned station in Newfoundland). Scott reached into the back seat and pulled out his trusty M Street Radio Directory (remember, this is more than a decade before smartphones!) and looked in the index for 90.9. It was the wrong day for religious programming on WBUR, which was too close for E-skip anyway, and it obviously wasn’t any of the other NPR possibilities (WMEH Bangor, WHYY-FM Philadelphia, and WETA-FM Washington) for similar reasons. The stations we were hearing on other frequencies seemed to be coming from North Carolina and Georgia — I think we had WFAE Charlotte on 90.7 — so Scott narrowed in on those states. There was a college station in Greensboro, an NPR station in Rocky Mount, another NPR in Fort Gaines, and a big 100-kW religious station at a college in Toccoa Falls. That seemed to be the best candidate, except that the programming didn’t sound particularly Christian. (After doing this for long enough, you learn to identify radio formats on fairly scanty evidence.)

Then Scott said, “You know, in South Carolina there is what I think must be the only all-Baha’i radio station in the US.” I asked what a Baha’i was, and Scott (having had a proper liberal-arts education) told me about them; he probably mentioned in particular the persecution they faced in Iran.

We kept the station on in the background as we were driving around. Eventually, the program sounded like it was ending, so we started paying a bit more attention. As we were crossing the Hillsborough Bridge on our way back into Charlottetown, we heard a woman’s voice say, “My name is [can’t remember] and I’m a Baha’i.” Scott grabbed his camcorder and started rolling video so as to capture the moment for posterity. Another similar announcement came on. A few public-service announcements later and it was time for the legal ID: “From Lewis Gregory Baha’i Institute, you are listening to ninety point nine, WLGI, Hemingway, South Carolina.”

Totally blew my mind.

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