Still Broadcasting: Catching Up with WTBU a Year After the Fire

On a Friday morning in spring, COM was suddenly evacuated when the WTBU station was decimated due to a fire that took hold of the third floor space.

While the studio has been doing better following the incident, WTBU is still on the road to recovery. And what is WTBU all about? While the name WTBU might ring a bell, many students may not know all the station has to offer. More than just a student-run college radio station, WTBU operates with a high standard of professionalism and dedication.

After the Fire

Students were shocked by the fire that destroyed the WTBU station. Initial estimates put losses at $500,000 from smoke and water damage. Their equipment was completely ruined.

“[We lost] tons of sentimental photographs, doodles, stickers, and notes from shows old and new,” says Emma Seslowsky (COM ’18), host of Seaworld Slumber Party, a show that features pop hits and songs from the 2000s.  In addition to the loss of sentimental items, those who thought of WTBU as a home away from home lost something else that day.

“After the fire happened, many people’s spirits were down because the station was such a comforting space for many people,” says Kristen Lay (CAS’ 19), host of No Problem, which spotlights local Boston bands, indie, and alternative music. For many, the WTBU station was a place of learning, and without a proper studio, potential hosts say they no longer have the ability to learn from watching other shows on air, as there is now limited room.

During BU’s Giving Day last spring, more than 260 donations totaling more than $33,5000 were given to WTBU to rebuild the station, making WTBU the most donated to organization on campus. In an article published by BU Today, COM Dean Thomas Fiedler (COM ’71) said he “is determined not only to rebuild the station, but to create a new and improved station.” According to some at WTBU, however, progress has yet to be made.

“It has been almost a year since the fire destroyed our studio, and no construction on a new space has begun despite promises from the administration,” Kyle Davi, general manager of WTBU, says. “We understand most of it is out of the control of COM.”

With their recording space gone, WTBU shows now record in a basement classroom space, and although the equipment is new and up-to-date, there is limited space. Due to the smaller size of the new temporary recording studio, shows no longer have the ability to conduct live in studio band performances. The location also makes it difficult, as the station now runs the risk of disturbing nearby classrooms.

“There is a lack of meeting space making it hard to build community,” Anne Donohue, an Associate Professor of Journalism and the WTBU faculty advisor, says.

WTBU History and Programming

According to the WTBU website, the station was established in the late 1950s “as a training ground for the already-established WBUR.” When WBUR became a public radio station, WTBU took over as the sole student-run station for BU. Past locations of the station include the GSU, Myles Standish Hall, and the Myles Annex before it found its current home in COM.

WTBU boasts a programming schedule from 6am- 2am seven days a week, all completely staffed by students. Some of their shows include the BUcherlotte, a dating show; It’s Always Snowy in Boston, an alternative pop show that plays music from a different city around the world each show; and #IlluminatiConfirmed, which discusses conspiracy theories and plays experimental music; as well as staples such as WTBU Sports and WTBU News.

From 2012 to 2014, WTBU won College Media Journal’s, College Radio Station of the Year award. In 2012, WTBU News won two Associated Press Awards, one for best college documentary for a six-part series titled “Life Without Parole: Juvenile Justice?” BU in the Morning has maintained a steady audience for about 10 years, and several of the hosts of WTBU sports have gone on to work in play-by-play sports broadcasting. The station even boasts Howard Stern as one of their alum.

Despite its array of unique programming and accolades, WTBU still tends to fly under the radar for a majority of BU’s population when compared to other media sources.

While shows themselves may have stable followings, most BU students don’t regularly listen to the station as a whole.

“It’s a historical problem. [WTBU] was never a full-fledged terrestrial station…at a time when most people listened to the radio in their cars,” Donohue says. In 1999, WTBU became the first college radio station to broadcast online. Donohue also notes that lack of a visible station could contribute to the relatively low listenership of the station when taking into account the size of BU’s population.

Independent from the Student Activities Office and the regulations that govern most student organizations on campus, WTBU DJs and hosts have the freedom to play just about anything they are interested in. However, the station follows the strict guidelines set by the Federal Communications Commission. Some of the standards include no profanity on the air and a requirement to log songs played onto an online program.

Hosts also hold themselves to their own high standards when conducting their shows. Before hosting their own shows, the station requires that students intern on another show at least one semester, allowing them to get hands-on experience working in a radio show setting. Once students have their own show, the responsibility becomes all theirs.  Students must pick out the appropriate playlists and content and make sure that they are keeping in time.

“We still try to keep ourselves as professional as we can,” says Lay of No Problem.

Despite of their recent challenges, the morale of the WTBU team is as high as ever. “Just because the old station is gone doesn’t mean our spirit is!” Seslowsky says. Several members of WTBU assure no significant changes in audience size, and the station has held a full schedule of programming both last fall and in the current spring semester.

WTBU can be listened to on station 89.3 FM/ 640 AM on the WTBU website.

Photos of No Problem’s hosts by Carolyn Komatsoulis

One thought on “Still Broadcasting: Catching Up with WTBU a Year After the Fire

Leave a Reply