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Vinyl fans eager for first pick at 98-year-old Newfoundland radio station's sale

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Record collectors in Newfoundland will have a chance Saturday to paw through selections from the vast vinyl library belonging to 98-year-old radio station VOWR.

Elaine Pond said she planned to be among the first people through the door at the St. John's Lions Club Vinyl Record Fair, where the station will have a table set up. It's the first time VOWR has sold any of its records, and Pond said she'll be digging through crates for country and gospel hits from Hank Williams, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.

"It's a dream for collectors," Pond said in an interview Friday. "This will be my vinyl event of the year. I've seen their collection. I know what they have. I love many of their shows."

VOWR launched in July of 1924 as a way to transmit church services to those who couldn't attend in person. Station manager Ron LeDrew said its library is now home to about 50,000 vinyl records. Among the stacks are albums of banjo covers, obscure Anne Murray bangers and rare recordings from Newfoundland musicians that are likely impossible to find anywhere else.

LeDrew was quick to emphasize that Saturday's sale will be of duplicates or "surplus" records, noting that the station receives many donations of record collections and duplicates pile up. VOWR's library will remain intact, and much of the easy-listening music on its airwaves will still come from those LPs, he said.

"We're dedicated keeping that going," LeDrew said in an interview. "We have country-request programs on the weekends and people call up, and you're not going to get them digitized; you're going to get them off the records."

VOWR is on the air 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and it's run entirely by volunteers, many of whom have been there for decades. LeDrew, 75, has been volunteering for 55 years, he said.

The station has a dedicated listener base of mostly seniors and people over 50, though younger people are tuning in as they become more interested in older music, LeDrew said. "A lot of the commercials now they're using old music, old songs," he said. "It's good stuff. It's got great stories, all put together with music. You don't hear that anymore."

In August 2021, the station's transmission tower went down in a lightning storm and people of all ages stepped up to raise or donate money so it could be replaced.

Pond, 41, said VOWR is special to a lot of people, her family included. When her mother died in April of 2014, VOWR was playing in the background.

"She was able to go peacefully," Pond said. "And when it came to decide where we wanted to ask for donations in her memory, we asked that people donate to VOWR."

Some people from the local vinyl collecting community have been volunteering to help the station sort through its record piles to get ready for Saturday's sale.

"There's community support ... to push them ahead and give them the help they need for their first time doing this," Pond said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 28, 2022.

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