|This article relies on references to primary sources. (December 2011)|
|City of license||not applicable / not FCC-licensed.|
|Broadcast area||Boston University campus|
|Slogan||"The Beat of Boston University"|
|Frequency||(89.3 (MHz) & 640 (KHz)
Part 15 / FCC unlicensed)
BUTV Channel 6
|First air date||1960|
|Callsign meaning||Terriers of Boston University|
|Owner||Boston University College of Communication|
WTBU (640 AM, 89.3 FM) is a "Part 15" student-managed and -operated radio station at Boston University. This means it is not licensed by the FCC but operates legally under special "low power" rules (not to be confused with LPFM FCC licensed stations). It has a block-format programming schedule, with individual DJs able to play pretty much whatever they choose during their weekly airshifts (usually two hours in length). Overall the sound skews mostly rock/alternative, but can vary significantly, including pop, urban, rap, classic rock, Triple-A, trance, electro, industrial and metal...or just true freeform.
WTBU is on the air 20 hours a day, any day that the BU dorms are open (at least eight months of the year). During the summers the studios may be used for special classroom exercises by the Boston University College of Communication, or "COM."
Taking advantage of the large number of broadcast journalism majors at COM, there are regular newscasts and sports updates. There is also extensive live coverage of BU sporting events, like hockey, basketball, soccer and more.
WTBU is somewhat unusual in that it is entirely "student managed." There is a faculty advisor with some oversight duties, but students are effectively "running the operation" (which often has over 120 volunteer student DJs) in pretty much every aspect. Virtually all positions are unpaid volunteers. There is an informal policy of only having current students to be on the air; community volunteers and alumni are not allowed.
There is no formal class curriculum specifically for radio broadcasting at BU, save for some broadcast journalism classes in COM that include radio. Virtually all the students at WTBU learn by doing. Due to high student demand for airshifts, the standard procedure is for an incoming DJ to "intern" with an established DJ for a full semester to "learn the ropes" before they get an airshift of their own. Incoming DJs can also volunteer at various also aspects of running the station while they intern.
Much of this history is either directly from, or inferred from, early BU yearbooks and old editions of student newspapers like the Daily Free Press. There are no online versions available of these editions.
The earliest known reference to WTBU comes from the 1960 Boston University HUB (the name for the student yearbook at the time); at that time the yearbook would actually list student activities for each student. Some students listed both WBUR and WTBU, suggesting that originally there was some overlap in staff between the two, which makes sense as this was well before WBUR became a professionally run NPR station.
The studios were originally located on the second floor of the George Sherman (student) Union building, in an area that was completely redone to become the modern-day ballroom. In 1969 it moved to the first floor of the Myles Standish dormitory. In 1982, it moved into the new Myles Standish Annex, where the defunct Grahm Junior College was...albeit the actual broadcast from the new space was delayed several months due to a broken water main. In the late 1980s, the basement studios were completely refurbished with new soundproofing, angled windows and the like. In 1997, WTBU moved to third floor of the College of Communication building (640 Commonwealth Ave), taking over much of the space vacated by WBUR when they themselves moved to 890 Commonwealth Ave. Both stations remain in those spaces today, and WTBU departed the Annex studios as soggy as it arrived in them - torrential rains in October 1996 flooded many basements (and the tunnel of the next-door MBTA Green Line!) including WTBU!
The heyday of WTBU seems to be in the late 1960s and early 1970s. While WBUR was suffering controversy after controversy (in 1964, a long process started of appointing professionals to run WBUR, only to have to fire them and start over again...a process that lasted until the early 1970s). During that time, WTBU enjoyed a significant boost in student attention from displaced WBUR volunteers and overall attention paid to "underground" radio stations by student protesters. As late as 1971 there were articles touting awards WTBU was winning (Station Manager George Schweitzer won the United Press International Broadcast Documentary Award First Prize), special broadcasts they were running (the Distinguished Lecture Series, for example) and being a core member of the "Ivy Network Corporation" - a collaboration between WTBU, WZBC, WBRS, WHRB, WTBS (aka WMBR), WZLY and WBRU.
At some point in the 1980s, the tradition of "Cram Jams" was formally instituted. This refers to the last week or two of the semester, when finals are being taken. The entire WTBU schedule is revised and DJs tend to play music they feel is especially relevant to test-taking.
In the mid-to-late 1990s there was a general drop in interest in college radio, and WTBU was no exception. But by 2000, renewed interest in media in society had brought WTBU back up to near-24/7 broadcasting during the academic year. On Halloween night of 1999, WTBU started streaming on the web as a means of finally reaching both the campus as well as alumni. This drew WTBU national attention when Bill Rigby, the station manager at that time, was featured in the New York Times discussing the station's expansion to online. Today WTBU enjoys over 100 student volunteers every semester, learning in a hands-on environment of DJ'ing, sportscasting, music review/label management, promotional events/remote broadcasts, news reporting, engineering, and audio production...not to mention the various business aspects of managing a staff that large.
Additional history can be found on the official WTBU website: wtburadio.org
Famous WTBU alum include Howard Stern, the self-proclaimed King of All Media. He attended BU in the mid-1970s, and WTBU holds the distinction of being the first station to ever fire Stern. As mentioned in his book Private Parts, his show (the King Schmaltz Bagel Hour) once aired a segment called "Making the Bishop Blush" in which they pretended a local Catholic Bishop was in the studio. They proceeded to make lurid statements and asked if the Bishop was blushing yet. Then-Program Director Hank Sennott was listening and fired Stern on the spot.
Many WTBU alumni have gone on to careers in broadcasting and related fields, including:
- Pete Gustin, WEEI & Pete's Bits
- Aaron Read, Rhode Island Public Radio
- Eric Rasmussen, WFTV
- Stephen Belter, C-SPAN
- Gary Trust, Billboard Magazine
- Leif Erickson, WFNK
- Jeffrey Ross aka Jeff Lifshultz, notable comedian and broadcaster
WTBU is a Part 15 station, which means that it operates without an FCC license, but within the legal power limits. These limits are the equivalent to about one-tenth of a watt, and unlike antenna-based stations, "carrier current" works on a building-by-building basis – that is, if you are inside, say, Shelton Hall, you can hear WTBU on 640AM. But walk outside and within 25 ft the signal will disappear.
There are radiating cable FM transmitters (broadcasting at 89.3FM) in the Warren Towers and West Campus dormitories, and carrier-current AM transmitters (broadcasting at 640AM) in the Shelton Hall, Myles Standish Hall, and Danielsen Hall dormitories, as well as one in the COM building itself. Not all these transmitters work at any one given point, though...many are decades-old. All the AM transmitters are made by LPB Communications.
Relation to WBUR
While WBUR is also owned by Boston University, it is an independently operated professional NPR news station. There are a few work-study positions at WBUR and sometimes they are filled by WTBU volunteers, but there is no formal connection between the stations.
The broadcast antenna and tower on top of the LAW Tower (BU School of Law building) is WBUR's backup broadcasting facility. It has nothing to do with WTBU.
- WTBU Official Website - program schedule Schedule for Spring 2009 semester. Retrieved Mar.29, 2009.
- WTBU Official Website - sports page Retrieved Mar.29, 2009.
- BU College of Communication 2008–09 Bulletin - list of undergraduate courses Retrieved March 29, 2009.
- Julie Masis (2007-08-26). "River's revival is more than a pipe dream". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2007-08-29.
- WTBU Official Site: Blog post about Cram Jams Posted Dec.15, 2008. Retrieved Mar.29, 2009.
- Thanks to the Web, Campus Radio Is Casting a Much Wider Net. Retrieved July 10, 2009.
- Jeff Lifshultz (Ross)was part of DJ team hosting the late night "Banzai Japattack" show which launched in Sept 1983 on WTBU http://www.stubpass.com/concerts/comedy/jeff-ross-wiki/. By 1984, Jeff would go on from being a punk rock DJ to be WTBU's Music Director.