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Gospel station comes to 'Light'

A Savannah minister who operates a non-profit gospel radio station in Jesup is planning to start a similar station in Screven County soon, playing “old-school” gospel music.

The Rev. Leonard Small has operated WTLD, named for “The Lord’s Day,” FM 90.5, out of Jesup for six years. The station covers seven counties and reaches into 11 counties, he said. Its signal comes as far north as Claxton.

The Screven County station will be WSLT, for “Salt and Light” Radio, FM 88.5, he said. Its tower will be built on Jenks Hill Road, on land donated by the Rev. Jonathan Roberts. Roberts’ church is in Hardeeville, S.C., but he grew up in Screven County, Small said.

Small said he hopes to rent space for the studio somewhere in Sylvania.

The signal for the new station will reach Sylvania, Millen, Rincon, Statesboro, Claxton, Wrens and Waynesboro, he said. It will not go as far as Augusta.

He expects the Screven County station to be on the air as early as the end of July, if he doesn’t have to go before the zoning board for approval to build the tower. If he must go before the zoning board, he hopes to be on the air in late August or early September.

The station will be on the air all the time and will play gospel favorites such as the Rev. James Cleveland, Mahalia Jackson and the Canton Spirituals. “We’ll be playing gospel that sounds like gospel,” he said.

It also will cover local sports and community affairs, including politics, and will have talk shows by local ministers. He expects to sign on sponsors as advertisers. “You can’t tell the difference between a sponsorship and a commercial,” he said.

The Screven County station will have a similar format and programming as the Jesup station, which has sponsors that include such businesses as car dealerships, restaurants, law offices, clothing stores and funeral homes. He said six churches have been born out of programming on the Jesup station; ministers preach on the air and then start their own churches.

The Federal Communications Commission will require the station to identify itself as being in Statesboro and Sylvania, Small said.

Small, who has been pastor of Litway Baptist Church in Savannah for 26 years, was convicted for armed robbery when he was 22 years old. He said he received a calling from God when he was in prison and “came out of prison a preacher” in 1978. Small, who received a state pardon in 1998, uses his story to inspire young people.

“If you’re down, you don’t have to stay down,” he said. “I want young men and women not to give up on themselves.”

The Jesup station is operated by Resurrection House Ministries Inc., which started as a drug intervention program 20 years ago. These days, it’s a community education and advocacy group that’s also augmented by a political action committee. Small is chief executive officer of Resurrection House.