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In the months following a three-alarm fire at the student-run radio station WTBU in March 2016, the staff worked out of a temporary space in the College of Communication basement, held a successful fundraiser, and gathered design ideas for their new studio during a visit with Howard Stern (CGS’74, COM’76) in New York.
All of that work paid off. Last October, the station broadcast live from its new state-of-the-art studio on the third floor of COM. The first song they chose to play? Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”
“We can’t thank COM enough,” says WTBU general manager Kyle Davi (COM’18). “Our new studios are double in size. We’re now back with more shows and plans to do podcasts, and across the hall we have a new performance studio so that bands can perform on air live.”
“I couldn’t be happier,” says WTBU faculty advisor Anne Donohue (COM’88), a COM associate professor of journalism. “The students have been patient and industrious to make this new space special. This is so much nicer than the previous studio, and I think any student in the country who wants to study radio would be wise to come here.”
WTBU, which turned 60 in 2017, broadcasts news, sports, and music programming 20 hours a day on 89.3 FM and 640 AM, and streaming online.
The fire—believed to have been caused by an equipment malfunction—ripped through the old WTBU studios, causing an estimated $1 million in damages. A firefighter, two BU Police Department officers, and three students were taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. The station was left uninhabitable.
While insurance covered a large chunk of the renovation costs, more than $46,000 in donations came in from faculty, staff, students, listeners, and many alums. “This was their life, a piece of their BU experience, and they rallied,” Donohue says. “It was heartwarming.”
One of the alums with close ties to WTBU is Stern, host of the Howard Stern Show. He welcomed the station’s e-board, Donohue, and Jake Kassen (CGS’01, COM’03), COM’s technical operations manager, to his New York City studios for a visit in June 2016. The BU contingent toured Stern’s studios and the entire SiriusXM complex, looking for ideas about how best to rebuild their station.
“We based the layout, equipment, and functionality of the new studio on the XM studios,” says Kassen, who was WTBU’s student engineer during his undergrad years. “All of the back-end stuff is made by a company called Wheatstone, the standard professional broadcasting company. Practically all commercial studios in the country use Wheatstone. We can do a lot more interaction between the two studios in real time now. We couldn’t do that before.”