College radio station WWPV "The Mike" gets new studio space

By: Mark Tarnacki

WWPV's old studio and offices on the second floor of Saint Edmund's Hall was the campus radio station space from Central Casting: intimate, low-profile and dingy-cool with shelved LPs and CDs lining the walls - a three-chambered daylight-free cave with a mildly subversive vibe that smelled of old electronics.

By contrast, the student station's new home, a bright and clean high-tech fishbowl at the top of the stairs on the new Dion Family Student Center's second floor, ditches the dingy but cranks up the cool by cordially inviting public interplay. Passers-by in the student lounge area now can watch shows unfold live or mug back and forth with the on-air talent in real time.

A few folks were doing just that on Wednesday morning, October 30 - Day Four of the new studio's operation. Moving day went smoothly the preceding Sunday, according to station advisor John Connors, who works in the Saint Michael's Information Technology Department for his day job. Connors' son, Liam '14, is the WWPV station manager. The elder Connors says he is on short-term hiatus from a regular Monday blues show that he's hosted for years on WWPV, simply because the move has demanded so much time.

wwpv radio stationFor their mid-morning time-slot this recent Wednesday, student DJs Alex Dugas '14 and Chris Magyar '14 were playing an eclectic mix of sounds off of their laptops as part of a new weekly morning show that they've put together this semester called "Folk Punk Blues." "It's basically the music of the people - that's the common thread," explains Dugas, an English major who this day passed stretches between his mic time by reading Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown for a class with Professor Joan Wry. "I'm reading my ancestor," he says, explaining how he has a direct matrilineal link to the author. In the chair next to Dugas, Magyar, a media studies major, crammed for a Global Communications test during the extended stretches when he wasn't keying the mic to describe artists and selections for the show.

Naturally enough, considering the name of its host college, WWPV is nicknamed "The Mike," and the WPV stands for "Winooski Park, Vermont," while the station's predecessor until the late 1960s was "WSSE," after the college's founding order, the Society of Saint Edmund. The first studio was in Sloan Hall on North campus until St. Ed's was built in the 1980s with a space dedicated to the station – space which now will likely become faculty/staff offices.

The actual "mics" that the show hosts use, then and now, protrude from a durable old-school broadcasting control console, a 10-year-old classic by Radio Systems brought over from the old studio in the move. Connors, the station adviser for about five years, says it's a popular and exceptionally durable type of board that is still made and sold to commercial radio stations. The transmitter for WPPV is in the attic of Cheray science hall, and the 100-watt signal has been known to reach Underhill, Jericho, Milton and even Waterbury with a lucky bounce, though the primary audience is Colchester/Winooski/Essex Junction.

Already, most student DJ's do their shows off their personal laptops and so can monitor the station's lively Twitter stream and Web site for requests and select/play songs right from the screens. Two holdouts are John Sheehy, the college registrar, who uses mostly CDs for his weekly folk show, which he's done for decades; and two community members, LJ Kopf and David Beckett, who for many years have played jazz on Wednesday nights and still might play CDs or records along with digital selections. The station's record collections and CDs are still mostly in the old studio but likely would be brought over eventually, Connors said, noting some are classics dating back to the 60s or even 50s. The old turntables from the former studio won't be coming over to the new one, but the station might invest in portable turntables that can be set up on tables in or outside the studio when called for, he says.

The "on air" lights were about to wired in for the new location so they could be seen in the public-facing studio windows, said Connors, though he lamented how the old neon WWPV sign from St. Ed's didn't appear to have survived the move in functioning condition. "But we'll get another one," he said, adding how he hoped somebody in the art department might be able to create and rig up something cool with lights to indicate song requests coming in, for instance.

Regular listeners heard no student shows for about a week during the switch, Connors says, although, thanks to automated broadcast capabilities, the station was only off the air for an hour. "We basically integrated what we had for our broadcast automation that we normally use between student shows, and ran it the whole time for a while since we are a 24 by 7 broadcast. We also do Web stream and can link to that from the mobile site," he says, adding the stream also was down for about a week during the change-over, but is back now.

Connors says over the years, he's had feedback from people on the West Coast and China who listen to his blues show online. Some highlights among the WWPV guest DJs are a Cuban music show called "Cuban Bridge" by the authoritative Toni Basanta on Thursdays at noon, and IT staffer and alum Jerome Allen '09, who like some student DJs brings his own state-of-the-art DJ equipment and mixers along for shows.

The station advisor envisions them eventually being able to set up their gear on a table outside the glass area to better interact with students in the Dion since there's a built-in conduit to the in-studio console. Connors also would like to develop the ability to produce pre-recorded interview shows that could be played later, particularly for shows in late night or wee-hour time slots. Now that the actual move has happened he'll be working on audio and broadcast-production seminars by station alums who "will come up and show the staff how to produce a high-professional-quality radio show." They hope to us the college's new Mac lab to "demonstrate all the resources that St. Mike's has, showing we can professional quality work with what we already have on campus," using Mac ProTools, or Adobe Audition outside the Mac lab.

This is all a far cry from the old black metal Royal typewriter from decades ago that was still sitting, lonely-looking, in the old studio on October 30, but Connors plans to bring it to the new space for atmosphere and traditional continuity, and hopes he can somehow bring the old studio's door surfaces covered with colorful vintage and contemporary band promotional stickers from the old site too. Along with the studio itself, the station's home in Dion now includes prime real estate with extra offices behind that have all-glass views of the walkway and campus outside and ample storage.

He believes the new studio space out front with the public is unlike any other radio station in the State of Vermont. Student DJs Alex and Chris say that they and perhaps 40 others student DJs on the full staff are excited by the new space's potential. Connors shared some "crazy ideas" that he thinks the station could pull off, such as inviting Vermont's congressional delegation or maybe visiting musical luminaries or campus guest speakers to be interviewed live in the studio while the show is being broadcast into the lounge, using the newly operating house-audio PA system that can pipe WWPV programming throughout Dion in real-time. The main studio has three microphones now, but also the capacity to plug in "multiple mics for multiple people" with space for more hosts or guests, or even live musicians, than was possible in the old space.

Before any of that happens, he's working with student life leaders to work out when and how such events or broadcasts might be feasible, recognizing that students' need to study in relative quiet sometimes in Dion is important too. "I think students see the potential but it's not until you get into the space that you really see the opportunities," he says.

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