WCU radio station is on air and with a new frequency

Student-run radio station WWCU FM is back on air after two long years of transition. On Jan. 27 at approximately 4:40 p.m., the station was rocking the radio waves on the new frequency 95.3. The old call number 90.5 FM is now for the local NPR station, Blue Ridge Public Radio.

The station was only online since the spring of 2020 as a result of the sale of the old frequency and the new radio tower was still in process of being built. The work on the tower was delayed because of COVID-19 and many hurricanes during the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

The station has a long history at WCU. From the WCU archive we know that in the spring of 1948, the station was officially on the air at 550 AM. Back then it was called WCCA, or Western Carolina Catamounts on the Air. Those Catamounts were on the air three nights a week with broadcasts of WCUs football and baseball games. In the first year of operation, the station received a budget of $25.

WCU students will again go on air with a new digital control board. Photo WCU.

The budget has grown since then, and it comes with new equipment.

One of the largest projects the radio station has ever endured has come with a new 185-foot transmitter tower. With the new tower comes a new HD FM transmitter and a new frequency, 95.3.

Faculty advisor for the radio station, professor Don Connelly says 95.3 is a reserved noncommercial educational frequency, as deemed by the FCC.

The transmitter allows for more coverage than the university has ever had. It will reach approximately 155,000 people within the coverage area. That is a total reach of 15 zip codes within their entirety and 5 partially, says Connelly. He is basing the number according to the Census data on the population within these codes.

Aside from the transmitter tower, all of the station’s equipment is also new including audio storage, playback systems and a new digital control board. The previous control board was purchased in 1988.

Connelly explains that now with the control board replaced, all of the audio from it will now be digital. Previously, the station’s programming was converted from analog signals several times before going on the air.

Unfortunately, the station is not yet taking volunteers.

Madelyn Ricket, the station’s program coordinator, explained that because the station is still being set up, there isn’t much for the volunteers to do. Once the studio is finished, volunteers will be taken again.

Connelly hopes that this happens towards the end of the spring of 2022 semester.

Connelly says that the pandemic has been a large setback for the radio station. In some cases, a broadcast company that sells custom consoles had orders backlogged for 18 months.

Kendall Harris is the general manager of the radio station. She is excited for volunteers to get back into the station, even if it is after she graduates following the spring semester.

“I won’t even be here, but I am excited for people to get back in the station and for us to have volunteers again. The students are really what makes WWCUFM what it is,” Harris said.

Volunteering will be open for everyone regardless of major.

“When everything is completed, we will have an incredible opportunity for students, faculty and staff to be engaged with the radio station. That’s what we are doing it for. We are doing it for students and of course for the community and region,” Connelly said.

Until it is time for volunteers, the station will primarily just play music.

Ricket believes this is an important step for the radio station.

“I think we need to establish ourselves as a station again,” she said.

When WCJ asked what music is being played, Ricket said, “I can’t tell you. I’m not allowed.”

Connelly explained that many radio stations never say what they are playing on the air. Instead, they allow their listeners to decide for themselves what kind of radio station they listen to.

“Listen and you decide what the format is,” Connelly said.

See related stories:

WWCU will expand its over-air reach in WNC

WWCU FM begins broadcasting online due to frequency transition

Turn It Up – WWCU-FM has growth spurt with new tower, expanded reach