Dead air: WRUC’s sudden silence, brighter future

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By Benjamin Engle

WRUC (87.9 FM), the 100-watt radio station of Union College and often referred to as the “first station in the nation,” has gone silent and may continue to be off the air until the middle of winter term. The station, which  turned 90 years old this past October, has not been on the air since the end of fall term and has not been streaming on the Internet since technical issues started to arise last summer.

According to Technical Director of WRUC Jacob LaRocca ‘12, the WRUC faculty advisor, technician, and FCC license holder, Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor James Hedrick went into the WRUC transmission room to check on the station’s systems during the winter break when he realized that WRUC was broadcasting static.

Since broadcasting “dead air” is illegal,  Professor Hedrick shut down WRUC’s antenna and broadcasting technology to take WRUC off the air. Music stopped playing when the station’s computers, which have the music autoplay lists, crashed and the hard drives became corrupt.

General Manager of WRUC Tim Connelly ‘11 hopes to have the station back on the air as soon as possible; however, equipment problems continue to get in the way.

“A lot of technical problems arose at the end of last year and during the summer. It is unclear to everyone involved in WRUC why or how these issues arose,” Connelly stated. “Problems with WRUC’s switching system that allows broadcasting from both studios and server issues hindered us from broadcasting consistently both on-air and over the Internet.”

While WRUC abruptly went off the air during the winter break, past station management and leadership was a major factor in the equipment failures.

“Over the past fifteen years the lack of communication, documentation, and general miscommunication slowly caused things [at the station] to be disorganized, making everything a lot more difficult,” LaRocca said.

However, despite the problems the station currently faces in terms of equipment, WRUC is using the situation to its advantage. LaRocca believes that new computers, supported by a $2,000 Presidential Green Grant, will provide a reliable system while making WRUC more environmentally friendly.

“At 75% power consumption, the [old] computers that ran 24/7 consumed 3 megawatt-hours,” LaRocca stated. “However, newer, smaller computers would bring it down to 300 kilowatts. This would make the station better and more efficient at the same time.”

To bring WRUC back on the air, LaRocca will be leading a technical team of five students to install new equipment, update software and rebuild the website.­­

After the upgrades are completed, WRUC DJs will be able to do their radio shows from either the upstairs or downstairs studios. Additionally, the station plans on renting out their recording studios to bands and groups. As WRUC improves its equipment over the next few terms, LaRocca hopes to have live bands on the air as well as have the ability to have shows broadcast outside their studios in the Reamer Campus Center.

While LaRocca plans on bringing WRUC back on the air by the fifth week of winter term, the WRUC executive board plans on promoting the station during its interruption. The station currently promotes itself through its Facebook fan page and Twitter page (@WRUC897).

“The WRUC executive board has been seeking out new ways to advertise WRUC since the end of last year. The T-shirts were a huge success and we are still thinking of new ways to get students involved with WRUC, especially during our broadcasting hiatus,” Connelly said. “ We are even considering setting up a temporary podcast system so students can broadcast music over the Internet while our broadcasting is being fixed. The new JBL speakers outside our studio are for WRUC broadcasts, and we are considering collaboration possibilities with TVUC.”

This unexpected station outage is not the first one in WRUC’s history. In October 1987, Charlie Slotnik ‘88 reported in the Concordiensis that WRUC was unexpectedly off the air due to the delayed construction and renovation project of the Reamer Campus Center and the new studios of WRUC. During the Reamer Campus Center’s modernization project, the station’s studio was located above Old Chapel.

That outage lasted through the summer and into the first week of the fall 1987 term as the station managed to use its Old Chapel facility for six weeks that term.

WRUC once again went off the air in the weeks prior to the winter break to move equipment and returned on-air in their refurbished studio in the Campus Center on Jan. 12, 1988.

Prior to the 1987 situation, according to Wayne Somers’ Encyclopedia of Union College, WRUC “entered a period of crisis that kept it off the air from December 1963 until September 1964.”

Like the station’s situation in 1987, the present WRUC leadership hopes to return to the air as soon as possible and unlike the situation in 1963, is devoted to improving the station for the present and the future.

“While inconvenient and not ideal, WRUC shutting down will give us a chance to rebuild our broadcasting system properly and more efficiently so that future DJs and executive boards can operate the station successfully,” Connelly then added. “WRUC will be greatly improved by the end of the hiatus.”

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