The first things that come to most people’s minds when they think about engineering at Virginia Tech might be humanoid robots with boxing gloves, or a colossal Rolls Royce jet engine suspended from the ceiling. Maybe they would think about labs that explore different chemical processes on varying scales, and the extensive calculations that accompany it. Very few would think about Virginia Tech’s premier, student-led radio station. However, the radio is among the great Hokie organizations that train and prepare the next generation of engineering students for industry.
WUVT has been broadcasting in Blacksburg since the late 1940s. It had originally been the product of a student who had constructed an AM transmitter in their dorm room and assembled a small team to run the station. Their grassroots operation continued until 1969, when they were authorized to begin FM transmissions broadcasting from the roof of Lee Hall, now Hoge Hall. In 2009, they moved to the media wing of Squires, and have been located there ever since.
The station features a unique, occasionally esoteric, blend of music that varies based on the DJ’s preferences. Since they have several DJs, there is no prevalent genre that WUVT broadcasts. This means that they could be playing just about anything at any given time. One of the more interesting facets of their operation is they often feature artists that perform live at the Milk Parlor and other venues around town. Examples of these events include The Local Zone, Radiothon, and Goth Prom. Students can listen to a song on the radio, then go downtown to a concert to see the artist live.
There are two main groups within WUVT that are in charge of managing the organization’s technological needs: IT and engineering.
IT is responsible for overseeing WUVT web streams, automation programs, online donations, and anything else that requires programming. Many of the members of the IT team are seasoned programmers, and many study computer science. Working on a live radio station and all of the virtual infrastructure that comes with it is a demanding task, and requires an innovative mindset and a little more than a sprinkle of ingenuity.
This is true for the engineering team as well. Their primary objective is to oversee the equipment that brings the audio from studio to transmitter, and ensure that the station is able to run with as little downtime as possible. This process starts when the DJ uses turntables, microphones, CD players, and other devices that are in both FM and AM studios. This audio is sent around the station using their Audio Over IP system, WheatNet. Corey Carpenter, the studio’s chief engineer, explained this in greater detail, “It allows us to beam audio around the station pretty much indiscriminately, so long as there’s an interface to plug into. A lot of what we do is getting audio hardware to connect to this network.” All of the equipment has “...to go onto the network and stay there; which is easier said than done when you have 50+ DJs a week using the equipment, random power outages, and 20-something years of miscellaneous cables and manuals to dig through. We do a fair amount of soldering, rerouting, patching, and whatever else needs to be done to keep the broadcast running (relatively) smoothly.”
Corey mentioned that WUVT is what eventually inspired him to study electrical engineering, and that all of the troubleshooting he does is worth it when he gets to watch performers and DJs use the equipment he fixes and maintains.
In addition to the radio station, WUVT also features a semester magazine called The Woove. It features various pieces of photography, brief thoughts on particular albums or artists, and has an accompanying Instagram page. I approached their art director, Sage, with some questions about what her experiences with WUVT and The Woove have been like.
“I'm also a part of the Art Staff for WUVT, which means I and other people get to make all the merchandise and promotion flyers for the organization. Being heavily involved in the arts, I use an array of different programs to create, like Photoshop, Lightroom, Illustrator, and Procreate. My primary art form is photography, which landed me the opportunity to have the cover page for The Woove's last edition we released. Hands down my favorite chance I've gotten thus far. When I first started, I genuinely hated Photoshop with a passion, mainly because it is such a complicated program when you're starting off as a creative. ... Over the past few months, I had to get extremely familiar with both programs because my craft became more of a responsibility/occupation rather than just a hobby I'd do once every few weeks when I had free time. … It [WUVT] 100% broadened my skills and portfolio as a creator, now giving me the ability to make unique pieces I was not able to a year ago.”
This presents a common theme within the WUVT organization: students run the show. The members who join the organization don’t always do so because they have several years of experience, but instead are doing so to learn. Whether it’s an electrical engineering student who wants to get used to fixing complex equipment, or a newer creative looking for inspiration and opportunities, WUVT has something for everyone.
This article would not have been possible without the help of Sage, Ibrahim, and Corey. Thank you all for your help, and we look forward to the future of WUVT and its programming.