WTBU Rebounds from 2016 Fire
State-of-the-art studios for student-run radio station
It’s been a long year and a half for student-run radio station WTBU, whose studios were destroyed by a three-alarm fire in March 2016. But the station persevered, with staff working out of a temporary space in the College of Communication basement, holding a successful fundraiser, and gathering design ideas for their new studio during a visit with Howard Stern (CGS’74, COM’76) in New York.
All of that work has now paid off. Earlier this month, 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 turns 60 this year, broadcasts news, sports, and music programming 20 hours a day on 89.3 FM and 640 AM, and streaming online.
The March 2016 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 transported 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 “shock jock” Stern, host of the eponymous 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.
“The visit was so the students could get an idea of what a modern, music-oriented studio felt like,” says Kassen, who was WTBU’s student engineer during his undergrad years. “We based the layout, equipment, and functionality of the new studio on the XM studios. 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.”
Construction on the new studios began this summer. WTBU’s facilities include a large, open on-air studio designed for discussion and file-based playback. Across the hall is the live performance studio (still under construction and expected to open this semester), which can accommodate up to 10 musicians, with the ability to record and mix 32 discrete channels. All facilities were built with National Public Radio–style acoustics to industry standard sound reinforcement specifications. The sound-deadening doors weigh nearly 500 pounds.
WTBU’s student staff and Donohue are especially appreciative of Kassen’s hard work. “There are no words to thank him for the work he did, for the hours he put in here this summer, on nights and on weekends,” Donohue says. “The construction was done by an outside company, but the equipment, computers, wires, and layout he worked on.”
During WTBU’s inaugural broadcast, of its flagship show BU in the Morning, on October 4, studio productions director Deanna Klima-Rajchel (COM’18) made a pitch to student listeners considering a career in radio about why they should join WTBU. “Interacting with the bands and being able to figure out how to record them, how to set up, how to properly use the mics, speakers, and cords are all really wonderful things,” she said. “As much as I love COM, we don’t have a radio production class. WTBU provides that.”
WTBU will host a reunion and ribbon-cutting event on Thursday, November 30. Alums can go on the air live with a current DJ, and there will be live performances, refreshments, and a party to follow. Find more information here.
I know the hard work that Jake Kassen and the COM staff put into this project and it is terrific to see their attention to details pay off.
Congrats, WTBU! Glad to see you’re back up and running. I miss my days hosting (2002-2006).