by Kakie Urch
A turntable B/W the Lexington cityscape. That is the base of WRFL-FM and it is the base of a new sculpture by UK Fine Arts Professor Garry Bibbs installed on Wednesday outside the station’s UK Student Center home.
The sculpture, incorporating the original WRFL broadcast tower, which for 22 years pushed the station’s 250-watt signal from the Patterson Office Tower roof into the Bluegrass, has been in the works since WRFL upped its signal power to 7900 watts and installed a new tower in 2010.
The station went on the air in 1988 after a communitywide and campuswide effort to establish an alternative radio station involving hundreds of volunteers and supporters. The station broadcasts 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Longtime WRFL DJ Brian Connors Manke, General Managers Chuck Clenney, Ainsley Wagoner and Matt Gibson, UK Student Media Adviser Ben Allen and Student Center Director John Herbst were among those instrumental in commissioning the work and finding an approved place on campus for it to be displayed.
Ben Allen, who advises WRFL and Wildcat Student TV as an assistant director with the Office of Student Involvement , said that true to WRFL’s spirit, it was a group effort. “The collaboration started from the very beginning, an idea from one of the staff members working with the student leadership to make contacts with the sculptor Garry Bibbs. Once we set it into motion, we pulled in everyone from John Herbst the director of the Student Center, to Warren Denny, the University Architect and Ben Withers from Fine Arts.”
Allen, who served two years as the station’s general manager in his student years in the early 2000s, said “Overall it was designed to show WRFL’s connection to the community. Seeing it finished is kind of like a culmination of all these waypoints and milestones we’ve achieved. I think back to when I was the GM, over time, we’ve built a new studio, we’ve substantially increased our broadcast power, the organization itself has grown, we’re constantly learning and teaching the new skills to the student broadcasters, we’re really refining our public service skills and our Boomslang Festival.”
The sculpture started with an idea from Brian Connors Manke. The College of Arts & Sciences employee said, “My initial interest was to photograph the process of the old tower coming down and new tower going up, as it was a major moment in the history of the station to boost the signal and reach so significantly after more than 20 years. There was no real plan for the old tower, so as the process was finishing up there was some talk about what to do with it. I stored the pieces in my garage, and talked to people about options and thought some work of art honoring WRFL’s history was an exciting possibility.”
Allen said , “Watching the thing go up today, it’s basically like seeing, ‘OK, this is like the new level.’ We’ve grown to this point. It is pretty great to see it happen with such an indentifying piece of art. Using the old antenna shows how long we’ve been doing it. And I love that when you’re walking down there you see a turntable, which is the classic DJ symbol and on the other side you see our city. It’s an amazing thing to see this go up on our campus and town.”
WRFL faculty adviser, Associate Professor of Media Arts & Studies John Clark and former Media Adviser Chris Thuringer worked on the upgrade approval that lead to the new tower for years, managing construction bidding and physical installation supervision of the new, bigger, taller tower, which was completed in June 2010 and sits atop the Patterson Office Tower.
The station’s signal now reaches deep into Central Kentucky, allowing listeners in cities and counties surrounding Lexington to listen to WRFL’s eclectic programming by students and community volunteers.
Allen said that Wednesday’s installation of the work serves as kind of a “soft opening” for the public art. A more formal unveiling will take place at theAugust 26 “Know Your Own” festival in that space featuring all local bands. We are going to have a moment during the proceedings to let Garry speak and other people who were involved.”
“The whole idea is to just celebrate the station. It will be the last day of K Week and so it will be connected to campus, we’ll have our new logo to roll out and the whole idea is to really press the “Start” button on the next 25 years.”
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