PROVIDENCE, R.I.—“Heritage, culture, tradition: Armenians are proud of it, and wherever Armenian songs are heard, there Armenia lives.” These iconic words were spoken every Sunday morning beginning in 1947 by the late Russell Gasparian as he welcomed listeners to the Armenian Radio Hour, which just celebrated its 75th anniversary on Saturday. Since Gasparian’s passing in 2010, the Armenian Radio Hour of Rhode Island has remained on-air as a labor of love, thanks to the dedication and commitment of Gasparian’s daughter Sonya Taraian.
At its inception, when independent radio was in its infancy, the Armenian Radio Hour was broadcast from WRIB, which was located in the former Narragansett Hotel in downtown Providence. The Armenian Radio Hour is one of the longest continuously running ethnic broadcasts in the country and continues to serve as a source for news, current events and music for the Armenian community in Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts. Since the sale of WRIB to the Faith Christian Center in Seekonk, MA, when the station unexpectedly went dark, the Armenian Radio Hour, known colloquially as “the Radio Hour,” has been broadcast on WARA 1320 AM, based in nearby Attleboro.
The Armenian Radio Hour was inducted into the Museum of Television and Radio in New York (now The Paley Center for Media) on December 18, 1996, in recognition of its decades of service and accomplishments. The Armenian Radio Hour’s 50th anniversary program, broadcast on June 15, 1997, is a part of the permanent collection at the museum.
“The Armenian Radio Hour meant a lot to my dad,” Taraian told the Weekly following Saturday’s celebratory event. “He felt the show helped people stay connected to their heritage, especially for those who could not attend church. He would play hymns and have our local priests pre-record messages on church holidays, so it would be like attending service through the show.”
Saturday’s historic celebration was attended by over 200 supporters at the Egavian Cultural Center of Sts. Sahag and Mesrob Armenian Apostolic Church and featured the energetic musical stylings of Kevork Artinian and his band.
During Sunday’s 9 a.m. broadcast of Radio Hour, Taraian expressed her gratitude to the community: “Thank you so much for being in attendance, for being supportive of our show, especially over the last 75 years.” In her conversation with the Weekly, the longtime host stressed her father’s devotion to the show, working on it seven days a week since he was 29 years old, never missing a Sunday.
Taraian joined her father as co-host in 1989, after he had been hospitalized due to illness, and she has been on ever since. “I am proud to continue and provide joy to our community,” Taraian shared. “My family and I are so thankful to be able to continue my dad’s legacy.”
Taraian continues that legacy by embodying the Armenian Radio Hour’s traditional closing, “Making you happy makes me happy. Our time is up for today; thank you for yours.”
I will admit that I had not heard of the Providence, RI “Armenian Radio Hour” even though it has been on the air for the past 75 years! It would not surprise me that it may the oldest Armenian radio station in the U.S. that is still on the air. I only knew of the late Arpik Missakian who filled her father’s shoes and carried over her father’s – Shavarsh Missakian – legacy who was the founding editor of the famed Haratch Daily in Paris, France. Now another such a shining example in the person of Sonya Taraian carrying over her father’s – Russel Gasparian’s – legacy. Well done.