Divine sounds: Foote family celebrates gospel radio station's first anniversary

Foote family celebrates gospel radio station’s first anniversary

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 2/22/2018, 7:08 p.m.
Richmond radio station WQCN is marking its first anniversary of delivering gospel to fans in the area on 105.3 FM. …
Altony “Tiger” Foote Jr., left, and his father, the Rev. Altony Foote Sr., pose in the WQCN radio studio inside Faith & Love Fellowship Church in South Side. The gospel station reaches listeners over 105.3 FM and streaming on the internet. Jeremy Lazarus/Richmond Free Press

Richmond radio station WQCN is marking its first anniversary of delivering gospel to fans in the area on 105.3 FM.

Better known as “The Choice,” the station is the growing broadcast arm of the 150-member Faith & Love Fellowship Church based on South Side.

The studio and equipment are housed in a portion of the decade-old non-denominational church at 141 E. Belt Blvd., just a few blocks from Southside Plaza. The station’s broadcast tower sits on the property.

While Richmond has several other gospel stations, such as Praise 104.7 and Rejoice 990 AM and 101.3 FM, WQCN believes it’s a bit different because of its church tie.

“Commercial stations have to put money first to stay on the air,” said Minister Altony “Tiger” Foote Jr., 46, the station’s chief operating officer. “We don’t. We put ministry first. We want to usher you in like a church, not be a gatekeeper that examines your production over your passion.”

It’s also a rare independent station in Richmond with all African-American management.

Along with music, the 100-watt station broadcasts 26 different shows each week, most locally produced.

WQCN just added celebrity comedian Sheryl Underwood’s new show, “Spiritual Nourishment,” to its lineup, Mr. Foote said. He noted that the Gospel Music Workshop of America’s RVA Alliance of Gospel Music Professionals is making the station its official home, evidence the station is winning recognition for its community role.

The regular shows and the gospel focus has sparked audience growth since the station’s fledgling start on Feb. 12, 2017, when its only broadcast was a repeating one-hour compilation of music and the announcement of its call sign.

Mr. Foote estimates that at least 10,000 area residents tune in each week, along with thousands more listening over the internet. The station can be heard clearly in a 25-mile radius around the city, Mr. Foote said, or about the distance from Richmond to Ashland to the north and from Richmond to Petersburg to the south.

But there have been inquiries and interest from as far away as India, said his father, the Rev. Altony Foote Sr., 69, the station’s general manager and pastor of the church he co-founded 10 years ago with his wife, Gloria Foote.

The station’s first birthday is worth celebrating, both said, because of the seven years it took to secure the license from the Federal Communications Commission.

In 2010, the church started the application process and was prepared to compete in the 2013 lottery the FCC held for new low-power stations. The church was one of the lucky winners in 2014, but it took another three years for the station to start broadcasting.

One big problem was finding a location, Mr. Foote said. At the time, the church was located in a rented storefront next door to a credit union. By 2014, the church that started with 12 members had more than 100 attending on Sunday and needed more space, Rev. Foote said.

Space became available in 2015, when the credit union decided to move and sell the building, including the storefront the church was renting. Rev. Foote said he was offered the first chance to buy the property for a discounted $350,000 and jumped at it, even though there was only $2,000 in the church building fund.

When he told the congregation in January that the church needed $100,000 for a down payment on a mortgage, he said he was stunned when members raised $120,000 in a matter of weeks, including $80,000 the first day of fundraising. By October, the church had secured the 5,000-square-foot building.

The building needed renovation, Rev. Foote said. So he, a veteran heating and cooling mechanic, led family members and other volunteers in tearing out cashier cages, installing the wiring, plumbing and HVAC systems, installing new sheetrock and fixtures and adding a fresh coat of paint.

“The church never closed,” Rev. Foote said. “People would walk past the work areas to come to services.”

It took nearly a year, and then Mr. Foote and his father hustled to assemble the equipment and get the studio ready before the Feb. 14, 2017, deadline the FCC set for the station to get on the air, Mr. Foote said.

With the 70-foot tower yet to arrive, Mr. Foote said he and his father ran the station’s wire antenna up a 25-foot metal pole, turned on the equipment, stuck in the compilation CD that included the station ID, crossed their fingers and went out to Mr. Foote’s car to turn on the radio to see if they could hear anything on 105.3. To their joy, they did.

“We drove around the parking lot. And then over the next two days, we drove around the city, and we kept getting the signal,” Mr. Foote said. “For us, it was like getting a Christmas present.”

The FCC validated that the station was in operation and, a few weeks later, issued the license.

In many ways, the station, as well as the church, bring together their life experiences.

Rev. Foote was the lead singer and guitarist for the Traveling Stars, a part-time gospel group. Mr. Foote, when he was old enough, played drums for weekend gigs, he said.

The Foote family relocated from New York to Richmond in the late 1980s, as did Rev. Foote’s brother, Bishop Roy L. Foote, pastor of New Direction Evangelistic Church in Chesterfield County.

Rev. Foote and Mr. Foote opened a gospel music outlet called FooteSteps in 2001 in the storefront that would later become the first home of Faith & Love Fellowship Church.

Meanwhile, Mr. Foote, a graduate of Virginia State University, also earned a certificate in radio engineering and studio techniques from Omega Recording Studios in Rockville, Md.

For 15 years until the church needed to renovate the space, he said he recorded and produced hundreds of CDs for musicians and singers of all stripes in a studio he created in part of the storefront.

Mr. Foote also was involved in selling commercial time for several radio companies, including Radio One and Cox Media, getting an inside look at radio operations.

Other members of the Foote family also take part in the station.

Co-pastor Gloria Foote, a certified public accountant, is the station’s and the church’s chief financial officer and keeps track of the money, Rev. Foote said.

Mr. Foote’s wife, Tammie Foote, is the station’s marketing director, and their two sons, Altony III, 13, and Christopher, 8, produce a monthly show, “News Kids Can Use.”

Mr. Foote’s sisters, Deshara Renée Lee and Nishone Foote, also do their parts. Ms. Lee, a music producer, songwriter and gospel recording artist in her own right, is making plans for her own radio program, “In the Mid-Day with Deshara Renée,” while Ms. Foote hosts a regular talk show, “The Christian Coffee Shop.”

An uncle, Deacon John Snow Sr., hosts “The Quartet Hour” program; a niece, Adaija Hargrove, does voiceovers; and a brother-in-law, Jaki Lee, who owns a car detailing operation, conducts promotions for the station.

Most of the shows on the station are independent productions of ministers and others in the Richmond area who have needed a welcoming outlet for their programming.

Rev. Foote and Mr. Foote believe the future is bright for the station.

“The Lord has placed us here for a reason,” Rev. Foote said, “and the sky’s the limit for what we can and will do in the years to come.”