Photograph by Steven Higgs
WIUX staff like DJ Tina Morgan, left, Station Manager Craig Shank and DJ Megan Melcic are now broadcasting on 99.1 FM. The low-power FM student-run station had to switch frequencies after just moving FM last year. Morgan and Melcic’s show Fantastic Voyage airs from 8-10 on Thursdays.
On June 4 at midnight, IU student-run radio station WIUX changed its place on the dial for the second time in two years, moving from 100.3 to 99.1 FM.
The move was forced upon the station by federal rules that require low-power stations to concede airspace to higher-powered stations that choose to increase their broadcast range.
"About halfway into the first year on FM, there was talk that WYGB might eventually encroach on (WIUX's) frequency, and we'd have to vacate it," said Craig Shank, WIUX station manager for the 2007-2008 school year. "But at the time we were told that it would be something that, if it did happen, would not affect us for a few years."
WYGB, a commercial country station based in Columbus, has the power to extend its signal due to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations that give higher broadcasting priority to stations licensed as high-power.
Low-power stations that may interfere with high-power stations can be pushed off the air, at "no cost to the displacing station," notes Shank.
So, after making the move from AM in late 2005, WIUX's volunteer staffers spent a fair portion of their first year as a low-power FM station maneuvering to find a new frequency.
After learning that the displacement might happen sooner rather than later and that another FM frequency might be available, station staff, in conjunction with IU, submitted a petition for reconsideration to the FCC and worked to raise public awareness and support.
Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and U.S. Rep. Baron Hill (D-9th), who were contacted regarding the station's dilemma by multiple community members, were among WIUX's most prominent supporters.
Shank said that raising awareness of the issue was key not only for WIUX but also for other low-power FM stations across the country experiencing similar issues, and "stations like ours, in a lot of cases, don't have a university behind them to help them out," said Shank.
WIUX, previously WIUS, has been a Bloomington entity since 1962. It began as a carrier-current station with the call letters WQUD in Wright Quad and joined forces with a similar station in Foster Quad to create WIUS in the late 1960s.
After enduring a fire in the station's headquarters in the early 1970s, WIUS moved to its current location at 815 E. Eighth St. in 1974.
Since then, the station has broadcast through cable and, more recently, from 1994 to late 2005, as an AM station with a small broadcast range.
The station is student-operated and managed and provides a variety of programming, according to Shank, "music, news and sports that you can't find anywhere else (in Bloomington)."
The station's music format, according to its Web site, highlights "lesser-known bands and local bands that won't get airplay at normal radio stations."
WIUX also covers local and national news and a variety of IU sports, while also hosting a regular free and all-ages concert series called Vibes at the station house.
WIUX is governed by a board of directors, all undergraduates, who train and supervise students in areas such as production, sports, music and promotion. It also enlists the help of a graduate assistant to act as a liaison between the station and the university when another voice is needed.
Shank noted that one of the station's greatest strengths is "we don't voice track our programming. The only things we prerecord are promotional spots, station IDs and automation programming, when we're off air for breaks. It's just students, live on the air 24 hours a day."
After reviewing their options, WIUX board members decided to switch to the available frequency, 99.1 FM, in August during a planned WIUX alumni weekend. However, Shank recently heard indirectly that WYGB was planning to make its switch on June 5.
"We hadn't been contacted directly about that," said Shank, "So I sent an e-mail to WYGB just to get in touch with them and find out what the situation was. ... From there we made an executive decision, rather than wait it out to see if we would interfere or not, we made the decision to switch the day prior to the day that WYGB would switch."
The switch is a major obstacle for the station, but Shank is optimistic about the coming year and looking forward to the alumni weekend in August and a kick-off concert the weekend before fall classes start.
An IU junior studying telecommunications, ethnomusicology and music and a WIUX DJ since fall of 2005, Shank knows the importance of the station from a student's perspective.
"The station is a great resource," he said, noting that WIUX allows students to learn things they might not in a classroom setting or within a particular course of study.
"If you want to learn about concert promotion, audio recording or graphic design, you can do that, and you can also network and work on communication skills. I mean, in radio you have to be on your feet and ready to talk at a moment's notice."
Josephine McRobbie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.