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WTBU Pays a Visit to COM Alum Howard Stern

Trip provides inspiration for student-run radio station as it prepares to rebuild


WTBU was the first radio station to hire host Howard Stern, and last month, Stern (CGS’74, COM’76) reciprocated by welcoming the station’s current e-board to his New York City studios for a visit. The group met the host of the eponymous Howard Stern Show and toured his studios and the entire SiriusXM complex, looking for ideas about how best to rebuild their station, which was destroyed in a fire last March.

The fire, believed to have been started by an equipment malfunction, caused major water and smoke damage and rendered the studios uninhabitable. Station faculty advisor Anne Donohue (COM’89), a College of Communication associate professor of journalism, says the space is now gutted, and rebuilding should begin this fall. There is a temporary studio in the COM basement, so the station “will be on the air,” come September, Donohue says.

In the weeks following the fire, alums and supporters of the station from across the country donated more than $40,000 to support the rebuild. Many listeners tweeted at Stern, hoping that the shock jock would see the pleas and help the station. When word did finally get through to him, he invited the students to his studios at satellite radio broadcaster SiriusXM.

Donohue accompanied the group of seven students, along with Jake Kassen (CGS’01, COM’03), technical operations manager at COM. “We toured the studios and went into Howard’s den to meet him,” says Donohue. “He could not have been more gracious. He said he felt terrible about the fire, asked what he could do to help, and then spent time talking one-on-one with each of the kids. He spent an hour meeting with us, when I thought we’d have 15 minutes.”

After the chat, the students were brought into 60 or so studios at SiriusXM, and took notes. One idea they came away with, Donohue says, was to do away with the glass partition in between the sound board and the hosts. “My experience is that during a live show it’s chaotic, and not separating the board from the talent on air adds another element to your show,” she says, “so maybe in our new space, one studio will have glass, and one won’t.” Another idea the students picked up from their visit was to use a webcam in the new studios, so they can also broadcast live videos of the shows.

Zach Schiffman (COM’18), the station’s underwriting director, says the e-board made notes about what they wanted to ask Stern in advance, but those “went out the window” as soon as they met.

“Stern was really nostalgic about BU and told us about how the general manager at the time told him he was horrible, and how when he was involved in the station, it was located in the basement of Myles Standish Hall,” Schiffman says. “We were telling him about our own experiences, and I shared how once I said something offensive on air, and within five minutes I had like a million angry tweets and calls. He said, ‘Welcome to the club.’” (Stern was fired from WTBU because he ran a segment called “Making the Bishop Blush” on his show, King Schmaltz Bagel Hour.)

Schiffman says the visit and tour served as inspiration for the new studios in numerous ways, adding that he’d also like to see his station take some design tips from nearby Emerson College’s radio station, which is located on the street level and is visible to passers-by.

Christie Leist (COM’17), the station’s general manager, says Stern “was genuinely concerned about the future of WTBU…. It was a privilege to speak with him on such an intimate level, and we certainly hope to maintain a relationship with him…. Meeting him revamped our spirit like nothing else.”

Amy Laskowski

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

One Comment on WTBU Pays a Visit to COM Alum Howard Stern

  • Tom Mack on 07.25.2016 at 9:44 am

    Look forward to hearing about Howard’s donation to help rebuild the station.

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