Sun 'n Fun Radio celebrates 20 years

Started as service for hearing impaired

January 27, 2014

Sun ‘n Fun Radio, originally created to get information during air shows to the hearing impaired, celebrates its twentieth anniversary during the 2014 festivities in Lakeland, Fla.

Hearing aids were not compatible with the public address system, explained David Shalbetter, who started the radio station. “They would just get feedback from the PA system, so Sun ‘n Fun needed a way to get information to the hearing impaired,” he said.

In 1995, Shalbetter was a media center volunteer when then-president Billy Henderson asked him to help create a radio station. “It was originally going to be a recorded loop of information, then at air show time, we were going to broadcast air show commentary live,” he said. “But I saw so much more potential. So first, I added interviews. I kept going to Henderson and asking permission to do things. He said as long as I didn’t cause Sun ‘n Fun to lose its radio license I could do whatever I wanted.”

In the first year, the media center volunteers, called the news hounds, pitched in to get the station started, said Shalbetter. “As the years went on, help came from more volunteers and even our listeners.  Sennheiser, a monster supporter, stepped up by donating the high-quality [radio] gear that we still use today,” he said. “Dave Pascoe of LiveATC.net donates our audio streaming. It started out being just for the show, but Sun ‘n Fun Radio now broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, thanks to Dave.”

Sun ‘n Fun Radio started streaming on the Internet in 2009, said Shalbetter. “The aviation geek community, via social media, has been monstrous supporters in getting the word out about the station,” he said.  “And none of this would happen without all my volunteers.”

In 2013, Sun ‘n Fun Radio had 36 volunteers on site and 10 volunteers offsite recording announcements and handling editing, he added. 

Shalbetter believes that Sun ‘n Fun Radio has become an institution because he works hard to make it a quality listening experience. “We never want people to realize that there are issues behind the scenes. We’re very successful thanks to volunteers,” he said. “We also get interesting guests and tell great stories. We can’t cover every story, but we try and do a wide variety of them. And people who can’t make it to Sun ‘n Fun can tune in and listen.”

Sun ‘n Fun Radio will celebrate its milestone birthday several ways, said Shalbetter. “We’re tearing down the current deck and building a new wraparound deck where we can use the front for live interviews and the back for overflow and conversation,” he said. “It’s our birthday, but you will get the presents as sponsors will donate items for us to give away every hour during live broadcast time.” And there will also be a birthday party the Thursday night during the show, he added.