WVFI: No Ordinary Radio Station
By BRIAN McLAUGHLIN
Everyone probably has noticed a number of flyers posted at various spots around campus advertising the campus radio station WVFI. And everyone who's paid attention to the posters has probably also noticed that no AM or FM numbers are listed on the flyers. So what's the deal? Doesn't every ordinary radio station broadcast over one of these two bands? Well that's just the thing: WVFI is no ordinary radio station.
The seeds for innovation within the totally student-run radio station were planted last semester when WVFI was more or less a typical radio channel. Back then, WVFI broadcast over the AM band using an outdated transmitter system. But the executive officers in charge of WVFI at the time noticed that the station suffered from very poor ratings and could not figure out why.
Sure enough, an inspection of campus radio devices in the middle of the spring semester revealed that many residence hall transmitters were broken — about five buildings were actually capable of receiving the station. Technicians said that the transmitters could be fixed, but at a price that was considered too large for what was agreeably "technology of the past."
But if WVFI were to leave AM, the obvious destination would be the FM band. But it is well-known that there are no spots available on the FM band in this area. So where would they go?
The solution came in the form of the Internet. Working from the end of the 1999 spring semester through the following summer, WVFI created its own Web site and invested in Internet technology, in order to become one of the only radio stations broadcast completely over the Internet. That means no more fiddling with annoying knobs to get reception that is never quite right — just type in wvfi.nd.edu into the location bar on your computer and the automatic, crystal clear reception of the on-campus station will sound.
To broadcast over the internet, WVFI uses live real audio feeds that are best received by downloading RealPlayer G2. (A link for RealPlayer is located at the station's Web site.) While recorded songs in real audio format are known for low-quality sound, WVFI's live feeds are of surprisingly optimum quality, comparable to that of MP3s. In fact, WVFI sounds just like a normal radio station — without the static.
The use of the Internet has proven beneficial, in that it makes WVFI capable of being heard worldwide. This especially comes in handy during its live broadcasts of Notre Dame football games.
"The football broadcasts are probably the biggest thing we have going right now," said program director Mary Devona. "They have proven extremely successful."
This is no wonder when factoring in that WVFI is the only radio station with exclusive broadcasting rights for Notre Dame football.
Normally, WVFI has enough live feeds to accommodate everyone on campus, but only 99 off-campus listeners. However, for the football games, the station has a deal with ESPN to increase availability. Basically, WVFI sends ESPN a single link which it then multiplies infinitely. For the game against Purdue, off-campus listeners signing on to hear the game reached a total of 1,200. ESPN has said that 200 listeners is considered a lot.
Sports Director C.J. Murray says that in the future, he is planning to broadcast Notre Dame basketball and hockey as well as the bookstore sports competitions.
Station manager John Forgash is especially excited about the station's new format. He said that the first part of this year will be focused on "raising general awareness of the station and getting students interested in listening." Getting students interested in what they were broadcasting was the main concern of the second part of WVFI's makeover, which affected the structure of the station itself rather than simply its method of broadcasting.
Over the summer, the studio was totally restructured and a number of changes were made to WVFI's programming in general. Forgash said that the internal changes in the station were intended to "increase the professionalism of the station in order to ensure quality programming, and make WVFI more responsive to listener demand."
Music director Joe Bonavita said that one of the more effective changes regarding WVFI's general format was that the DJs now have more freedom in organizing their programs than they have had in the past. Sports director C.J. Murray expounded on this when he said that "the separation between the executive board and the DJs hardly exists this year, and the station is much more democratic."
This change is reflected in the specialty shows that run from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Friday. Two shows run every day with each catering to a different, but specific genre. So if your tastes lean toward hardcore-punk, or even bluegrass, WVFI has a show created especially to satisfy those tastes.
Throughout the rest of its broadcast time (10 a.m. to 1:45 p.m., seven days a week), the station acts as basic popular rock radio station. But even in this area WVFI has expanded its horizons, which was facilitated by the fact that they have much more direct contact with record labels and can more easily receive large varieties of new music. As a result, WVFI has nearly quadrupled its music rotation. Also, the DJs have attempted to make the programming much more amusing, and they are always welcoming listeners to call in requests or just call in for the heck of it.
The news department of the station is headed by Teresa Hoover, who urges any students interested in newscasting to come by the office. It is located on the second floor of LaFortune by the north stair.
Being an online, interactive radio station on the Internet, WVFI's Web site is obviously a huge part of the station itself. The design and maintenance of the Web site falls under the responsibility of the Internet productions director Brian Snyder. The station's Web site is incredibly extensive, with a department which informs students of upcoming on-campus events, a catalog of all the music available at the station, information on local bands, a chat room, a list of available campus jobs, a calendar of upcoming concerts in the area, general information on the station itself and the station's current top 30 list. WVFI also runs contests off the site, and offers a survey so that listeners can give the station their critiques and offer suggestions.
The coming year will prove to be a busy one for WVFI, as they have many ideas planned to help promote the station. They hope to hold special broadcasts from places around campus, including the golf course, where they hope to host a tournament. Also, the station may sponsor on-campus performances by local bands.
As part of the renovation, WVFI has invested in computer hardware as a means of being on the cutting edge of radio technology. By having computers in the DJ booth, Snyder hopes to connect them to AOL Instant Messenger, so that online listeners from literlly all over the world can easily send in requests.
Also, the staff is attempting to have campus computer clusters equipped with headphones so that people can listen to WVFI while working. Finally, the contests have been promised to get bigger, eventually allowing the station to give away television sets and other luxurious prizes.
If WVFI's promotional campaign succeeds in increasing the size of its audience, these goals and others no doubt will be accomplished. Yet, as Forgash said, "The main goal for this year is to focus on the listener and make sure that both the staff and the listener have a great time."
All Scene Stories for Tuesday, October 5, 1999