“The first time people hear something, they really don’t hear it. It takes hearing it more than once,” says John Hayes, co-founder, president and CEO of local radio station WRES 100.7-FM. “My vision was to give nonprofits the opportunity to get their message out to people in a way that people would hear it more than once.”
As he speaks, an episode of “No Limits,” focusing on scholarships currently available through A-B Tech, is being recorded. The segment will air three days a week at 11 a.m., hopefully reaching listeners who can take advantage of the educational programs.
One of WRES’ earliest goals was to serve “not just the black community, but the community, period, aimed at people of low wealth,” says Hayes. He draws a distinction between the low-income designation and a person’s own measure of wealth, and how they’re able to “use that gift to benefit others [and therefore] empower [themselves].” WRES celebrates 16 years on air with a banquet celebrating Hayes and his many contributions to the community, on Saturday, Aug. 19.
Expanding the reach
A native of Birmingham, Ala., Hayes was living in Winston-Salem when he first worked in radio. His show, “Black Awareness” — on station WAAA — originated as a newspaper that he self-published, with the help of his wife, and distributed to local barbershops. Realizing he could reach a wider audience through the airwaves, Hayes not only learned about broadcasting but launched his own recording company.
It was work in education, through the Head Start program, that brought Hayes to Asheville in 1977. That same year, he launched the Hillcrest Enrichment Program in the public housing community of the same name. “In July of ’77, I went into Hillcrest and got to know the parents” of the children he’d been working with, says Hayes. “In order to talk to the parents, I had to watch ‘All My Children.’” He laughs about the soap opera. “I had to sit through all of that to get to the point of being able to talk to them.”
Hayes also created programs at fellow Housing Authority communities Klondyke Homes, Lee Walker Heights and Deaverview Apartments, but it was the Hillcrest High Steppers — the drum and majorette corp from that first initiative — that captured Asheville’s hearts.
“We didn’t have any drums. … Cardboard boxes and sticks were the first drums they learned to play on,” Hayes says of the students in that program. “Take what you have to make what you want.” The only batons were owned by two girls who were already in another group, and there was no money to fund the initiative. But Hayes applied for a grant through a program under then-Gov. Jim Hunt. The governor influenced Asheville-based agencies to contribute money to both the Hillcrest High Steppers and the community youth football team that Hayes coached.
Riding the (air) waves
With a similar combination of ingenuity, charm and grit, Hayes forged ahead with his plan for a radio station that would connect the community to the resources it needed. As president of the local branch of the NAACP — Hayes served in that role for 16 years — he thought that organization would be a good umbrella for the station. But a former national president of the association dissuaded Hayes from that model.
So, with area business and community leaders — including Sophie Dixon, who, like Hayes, still operates the station — Hayes set up a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit and launched WRES. Local luminaries involved with the station’s founding were Scott Dedman and Terry Bellamy, among others.
Hayes counts among the station’s great successes the early program “Credit Talk,” which provided information on credit scores and classes to build skills around financial security. “It’s all about empowering people of low wealth on health issues, money issues [and] life issues,” he says, “so that we can lift the whole community up.”
More than a decade and a half into broadcasting, WRES is still tapping into the expertise of leaders in communities of color and sharing that knowledge through informative shows. The station also spins an array of music (gospel, blues, soul, contemporary and more), and airs all of the games of the Asheville Tourists baseball team. That particular coverage, says Hayes, allows parents to share a handed-down-from-one-generation-to-the-next experience with their children: listening to the game on the radio together.
Sometimes lifting the community up is as simple as a good song or a home run.
When asked how his spiritual practice impacts his radio work Hayes, who is an ordained elder of the Churches of God in Christ, laughs. “My pastor and I look at this as a calling,” he says. “This is what I’m here to do. … I’m serving each and every day.”
With 16 years of service under his belt, Hayes is focused on the future of WRES as well as the community he reaches. “I think it’s important that we learn to celebrate ourselves,” he says. “If you’re looking for somebody else to empower you, you’ll be waiting forever.”
WHAT: WRES 100.7-FM Sweet 16 Banquet
WHERE: A-B Tech/Mission Health Conference Center
WHAT: Saturday, Aug. 19, 7 p.m. $25. wresfm.com