They Say It’s Your Birthday: WRFL Class of 88
by Matt Dacey
Every year, Beloit College in Wisconsin issues a Mindset List as it pertains to that year’s incoming college freshmen. A couple of the items from last year’s list: “Earvin “Magic” Johnson has always been HIV-positive.” and “Bobby Cox has always managed the Atlanta Braves.”
As March arrives, people in Lexington and at the University of Kentucky celebrate the anniversary of the inaugural broadcast at WRFL, which happened on March 8, 1988. So what was the mindset of the original Class of WRFL, at least in regards to running a radio station?
For one thing, and this is quite startling in retrospect, WRFL did not own a CD player of any sort in1988. There was some discussion as to whether or not we needed CD players, but since vinyl was the dominant format at the time, and it was still uncertain whether CDs would catch on, the decision was made to hold off on the purchase of CD players.
In the air studio, we had two turntables, a cassette player, and two cart machines. Carts are cartridges, similar in design to 8-tracks, that radio stations used to use to record and play promo spots. The production room was a mirror image of the air studio, and had all the same equipment as the air studio, as well as a couple of reel-to-reel tape recorders.
Today, the entire process of recording and editing a promo can be done using a single computer. In March, 1988, WRFL had yet to acquire its first computer. Promos were recorded in the production room on the reel-to-reel, spliced together by hand using a razor blade and special tape, and dubbed onto carts. If we wanted music with a voiceover, that involved cueing a record to just the right spot, then literally talking over the music.
The air studio itself is a primary focal point of WRFL today, located in the same spot that was occupied by Kopy Kat (UK’s in-house version of Kinko’s) in 1988. Anybody who happens to walk past in the Student Center can peek in at the DJ currently on the air, which is an ingenious way to perpetually promote the station, because it puts a human face on WRFL for all passersby.
In 1988, the mindset was considerably different. For one thing, the station was originally slotted to be built in the basement of Miller Hall. The University gave us a nice old office, with three back rooms. The front area was to be the reception area, and the three remaining rooms were to be the air studio, the production room, and a storage room. Looking back, it seems both quaint and ludicrous now. We would have run out of room for records sometime in 1989. Thank you, asbestos!
Not long after UK gave us those offices in Miller Hall, it was determined that construction of a radio station there wouldn’t be feasible, and the presence of asbestos was indeed a primary reason. So we got the old storage room behind Kopy Kat instead, and the original plan was to maintain the business offices at Miller Hall, while the Student Center location would be strictly used for broadcast and production purposes.
When the WRFL staff consisted of a handful of people, working diligently to do all the things necessary to build a radio station from the ground up, Miller Hall was all business.
By the time the Fall 1987 semester rolled around, and the staff had increased in size to 60-plus, Miller Hall had become our de-facto hangout. During the day, it was a place to meet friends, eat lunch, make free phone calls, listen to music, and have a good time. We also had three IBM Selectric II typewriters, which allowed us to bypass the wait at the library and type our papers in a more leisurely (albeit less studious) setting. Even though there was no actual broadcast equipment located there, we all called it “the station.”
There was some concern that once actual broadcasting commenced, the shenanigans at Miller Hall would gravitate to the Student Center, and would cause WRFL to sound less than professional. One of the reasons the original air studio was located in the innermost sanctum of the Student Center space was in an effort to keep ambient noise out. It was also felt that the DJ on the air would benefit from the relative privacy that space was intended to afford.
Of course, none of that happened. The day we started broadcasting, everybody quit hanging out at Miller Hall and started hanging out at the new station instead. Most of the jocks kept the door to the air studio propped open, thereby eliminating the noise/shenanigan barrier. And we certainly didn’t sound professional.
But you know what? We sounded damn good. The tower construction is scheduled for the week of UK’s spring break (March 15th, 2010), weather permitting. It’s quite possible that it will be pushed back a little if there are any complications.
It’s been paid for by several years of saving, as well as lots of donations over the course of the past 2-plus years. FreeKY fest was WRFL’s big fundraising push, which raised awareness of the need.
The new Tower means that WRFL listeners will no longer be alone in central Kentucky! For listeners in Lexington, the signal will be stronger and clearer than ever. A Free Show planned in celebration on April 23rd. No
Age will headline. —Ainsley Wagoner