November 7, 2008
WUVT, Blacksburg, VA
So we're all done with our recap of Big Trip 2007 - and just a few weeks ago, a big pile of boxes of Tower Site Calendar 2009 came back from the printer, all ready for sale and for your office or transmitter shack wall. We hope you'll take a moment to get your order in for the calendar, or better yet, show your support for Site of the Week and NorthEast Radio Watch with a subscription!
This week, we continue a multiple-installment "Little Trip," recapping our travels as we made our way to Charlotte, North Carolina for last year's NAB Radio Show.
In this week's installment, we take an unexpected detour. Our plan after leaving Roanoke, subject of the last two installments of Site of the Week, was to shoot south on I-81 and I-77 to rectify another omission from our 2003 Carolinas/Virginia trip - a tour of the studios of legendary bluegrass station WPAQ in Mount Airy, North Carolina.
We got there, eventually - but along the way, we seized the opportunity for another tour: WUVT (90.7), the student radio station at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, 45 minutes or so southwest of Roanoke.
Virginia Tech, of course, had been in the headlines just a few months before our visit, for that tragic campus shooting - and WUVT itself had played a role in that story.
Student chief engineer Kevin Sterne was one of the gunman's victims; in fact, that famous photo showing a student being carried out of a classroom building on a gurney is of Kevin himself.
And if there can be said to be anything good that came out of the shootings, it's this: not only did Kevin make a full recovery, but his story drew attention to this gem of a campus radio station, bringing it some much-needed help at a critical time in its 60-year existence.
Sterne wasn't around the day we stopped by, but WUVT's contract engineer, Josh Arritt, had hooked us up with his assistant, Tech senior Jason McKillican, who showed us all around the place.
Jason's a talented engineer, too, one of the latest in a long line of broadcast-engineering types who've started their careers as Hokies. (The roster includes, among others, John Lyles, who went on to design transmitters for BE; Gary Blau, now in Florida; and longtime Washington engineer Bill Suffa.)
WUVT's studio facilities are typical college station: located down a back corridor of the Squires Student Center, the suite includes a main air studio for the FM, a second studio that was originally used by the carrier-current AM operation that's now defunct, a big library of vinyl, and a nice engineering office.
The WUVT carrier-current operation dated back to 1948; 21 years later, WUVT-FM (90.7) debuted as a 10-watt signal from the roof of the Lee Hall dormitory, then the tallest building on campus. When we visited in the fall of 2007, WUVT's FM transmitter was still in the mechanical penthouse atop Lee Hall, but not for much longer...which brings us back to Kevin Sterne.
Throughout his time at Virginia Tech, Sterne had been leading a campaign to move WUVT to university-owned land atop Price's Mountain, dramatically improving the station's coverage and replacing the aging BE FM-3.5K transmitter (designed by WUVT alumnus John Lyles) that was unable to make full power in the overheated room atop Lee Hall.
With the attention WUVT received after the shootings, engineers and equipment manufacturers from all over the country sprung to action to help make Sterne's dream come true. The BE transmitter (inexplicably nicknamed "Harriet") was supplanted by a donated Harris (at right in the picture above) to get the station back to its licensed 3 kW ERP from Lee Hall, and numerous commercial broadcasters and suppliers donated time, energy and materials to get the Price's Mountain CP granted (that happened this past June) and to get construction underway at the new site.
WUVT's website (maintained by McKillican, who's also the station's IT director) has provided a running update on the construction - and at some point, we'll have to get back down to beautiful western Virginia to show you the finished product!
(One more note - in lieu of a Big Trip this year, we're coordinating this series of Tower Site of the Week presentations with weekly audio updates over at our sister site, Tophour.com, so be sure to head over there each Wednesday to hear the IDs we gathered as we made this trip last year.)