WSLS Debuts “Our Blue Ridge”

Co-Hosts Jay Prater and Natalie Faunce.

Natalie Faunce is a familiar face to viewers of Roanoke area television news.  “I was a TV news anchor-reporter.  I spent about ten years in the news business…here in Roanoke, people will probably recognize me from the Fox affiliate,” says Faunce.  “I was doing the Fox Ten O’clock News Monday through Friday [for] about two years, and I did some out-and-about segments that people might remember.”

Faunce briefly left television journalism for a job as the director of public relations for Ferrum College–one that involved a daily 45-minute (or more) commute each way to work and back.  The opportunity to leave that behind arose when she learned about co-hosting a new, daily local lifestyle program on WSLS-Channel 10. “It sounded like a lot of fun,” she explains. “When I interviewed for it, I thought, ‘This is right up my alley.’”

Beginning March 1, Faunce and veteran radio personality Jay Prater began co-hosting “Our Blue Ridge.”  Airing at 12 noon on WSLS, the new program will spotlight lifestyle events in the Roanoke area.

Prater grew up with broadcasting in his family.  His father, Bart Prater, was a DJ on 1240 WROV AM in the 1960’s and ‘70s; he later moved on to K92 in the early 1980’s.  Currently, the elder Prater is director of computer operations at WVTF Public Radio.

Jay Prater comes to “Our Blue Ridge” from a 25-plus year career in radio broadcasting that began in Roanoke when he was a teenager on K92, followed by a stint on Q99.  Leaving the Roanoke area, he held various radio jobs around the country, recently returning to Roanoke to join WROV.  Prater learned about the opportunity to host “Our Blue Ridge” from a member of the WSLS sales department.

“He put me in touch with Warren Fihr [the WSLS general manager]. Natalie and I interviewed with him, and, lo and behold, a guy with a radio face–they decided to put on television!”

As the title implies, “Our Blue Ridge” will feature stories and segments pertaining to the people and culture of the region.  “It’s more of a lifestyle program rather than a news-driven show,” says Faunce.  “In fact, we’re not going to be really talking about anything newsworthy on the show.”

One of the features will involve local restaurants.  “We will be doing an ongoing segment with Marty Montano from Montano’s–who will be joining us every week for a new recipe,” says Faunce. “We also have a few segments that we’ll do with the Hotel Roanoke.  We will probably feature many, many more as we go along.”

Other segments will involve local nonprofit groups discussing projects they’re working on, community events, and the Pet of the Week segment that formerly appeared on WSLS’ 12 o’clock newscast. “We’ll have Angels of Assisi and the SPCA on,” says Prater.  Authors, theater groups, the Jefferson Center, and both area civic centers will be featured as well.

“You name it,” Faunce says, “it’s going to be featured on our show.” The concept of “Our Blue Ridge” grew out of a program that many of WSLS’s sister stations currently air.  “Media General owns several stations around the country, mainly in the Southeast,” says Faunce.  “And at least seven or eight of our sister stations already do this program.

For example, we just recently visited [the] Tri-Cities market.  We went to Johnson City, and they do this program.  They call it ‘Daytime Tri-Cities,’ and this is a prime example of how successful the show can be–and, hopefully, will be here in Roanoke.  They started as a half-hour show in 2007 or 08, and within that first year, they went to an hour-long [show].”

Neither Faunce or Prater believe that dropping WSLS’s noon news broadcast in favor of  “Our Blue Ridge” will adversely affect the amount of news programming WSLS airs to local viewers.

“I think that people can get their news anytime, and any day now with online,” says Faunce.  “I think that this really gives the station an opportunity to…focus more on community events, local businesses, local restaurants, a little bit more than maybe a traditional news program can.”

“Keep in mind, too,” Prater adds, “that even with the loss of the 12 o’clock newscast, WSLS carries more news than about anyone in the market [including the] 5:30 p.m., and seven o’clock shows.”

Noting that viewers can also get news from Channel 10 from 5:30 a.m., Faunce says, “It’s not like we’re dropping a whole lot of our news product.”

By Melvin E. Matthews, Jr.