By Kate Durham, Class of 2013
The only thing behind the door marked "340 RADIO CONTROL" on the third floor of Wey Hall are the skeletal remains of a college radio station studio. The room has seen better days. Not long ago it was an energetic hub for students to nurture their ambitions of something big—bigger than the tiny cubical of a room from which they broadcasted.
The rest of the rooms are mostly empty now, except for 35 years worth of rock band decals and stickers in every shape and color layering the doors, a sign that it's not empty of character or memories.
But radio isn't dead; it's alive and well. And 90.5 WASU-FM, Appalachian State University's student-run radio station, hasn't gone anywhere ... at least not far.
On June 20, across the street in a studio at least three times as large as Wey Hall's, WASU launched a new era of radio as it broadcast for the first time from the Wayne and Karen Sumner Studio in the new 18,000 square-foot George G. Beasley Media Complex. Beginning fall 2013, new and returning broadcast students will be among the first in the media complex, which houses broadcast studios, classrooms, labs and offices for faculty members.
A generous gift from Appalachian alumnus George G. Beasley of Naples, Fla., along with state funds and other private donations, have made the media complex a reality.
"George Beasley well knows how a college education can change a person's life. His truly life transforming gift will enable many students to pursue their dreams of earning college degrees and entering careers in broadcasting," Chancellor Kenneth E. Peacock said.
"We were professional before, but we're moving up to a whole new standard now," said Christian Morgan, a senior electronic media broadcasting major. "When students come into the broadcasting program, a lot of them have never seen an actual radio or TV station. The fact that the building imitates a professional station gives the students an eye-opening experience."
The radio station began in Chappell Wilson Hall, where it first went on the air in 1972. When the station moved to Wey Hall six years later, it had to form around an existing space. The new media complex, however, is designed for a radio station, said Dan "Vallie" Hill, an industry professional who also oversees WASU as a practitioner in residence.
"The students were pretty cramped over there," Vallie said, about the Wey Hall location. "There were some disadvantages, but we made it work."
That make-it-work attitude earned the station a "College Radio Woodie Award" in 2012 and the "Shoulda Coulda Woodie Award" in 2011, both from mtvU. And in early July, the New York Festivals International Radio Programs & Promos Competition named WASU as a finalist in The World's Best Radio Programs & Promos for 2013. The competition honors radio programming and promotions in all lengths and formats.
The move to the new building hasn't changed the listener's experience, Vallie said. Besides the addition of a replica on-air practice studio, the most notable change is that students and faculty have ample space. The number of labs, where students pre-record and assemble on-air packages, has also doubled.
"This building is exactly like what we would see when we graduate and go into the profession that we are looking to start our lives with," said Nakia Hewitt, a senior electronic media broadcasting major.
As the move-in date for WASU came closer, Vallie, Morgan and Hewitt made preparations by planning an on-air "performance," as Vallie called it, to document and explain everything to their listeners in real-time as it happened.
"Nakia comes on and makes an announcement about what's happening. And she introduces Doug Rice, the president of Performance Racing Network and the voice of NASCAR," Vallie said. "Doug introduces a song and talks about Wey Hall because he graduated from here sometime in the 18th century," he said, with a laugh. Rice's voice was the last to broadcast from Wey Hall.
Larry Cornelison, the station's engineer, coordinated the technical events of the day.
"He's absolutely terrific; I say all the time, the best engineer I ever worked with," Vallie said. Doug Brantz, information technology specialist for Appalachian's College of Fine and Applied Arts, also assisted significantly.
Vallie and his students agreed that the most memorable part of the "move" was when Cornelison made the actual switch from the transmitter at Wey Hall to the transmitter at the media complex.
"I was sitting there in the studio, and Larry (Cornelison) was sitting next to me, and I was like 'We're going to have to cut off the transmitter across the street and turn the one on here so we can broadcast from this building,'" Hewitt said. "He said, 'Oh, it's just a flick of a button from my phone.' So, he pressed some buttons on his phone and worked the magic that he always does."
The last song broadcast from Wey Hall was "Start Me Up" by the Rolling Stones (the first was "Beginnings" by Chicago).
Morgan was the first person to broadcast on air from the new building—sort of. At the time, he was sitting 300 miles away on Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. He used his laptop to remotely log in to, and take control of, the computer at the media complex while looking at the exact same screen that he'd see if he were physically in the studio.
Seagulls flew overhead and waves lapped up the shoreline as Morgan sat in the sand waiting on the phone for Cornelison's countdown.
"He said 'three, two, one,' and I hit go and said, 'I hope it works...' and it did," Morgan said.
The first song broadcast from the media center was "I Will Wait" by Mumford and Sons.
"We switched over our iHeart radio feed at that same time, too, so we were not only on the air for radio, but we were also streaming live," Morgan said.
Vallie, Morgan and Hewitt all laughed and said there was no backup plan, but that it "went off without a hitch."
"The back-up plan was try it again if it didn't work the first time," Vallie said.
"I feel honored to have been at the station during this big time. Right now it doesn't seem like it's such a big deal, but in the future, students in this building are going to have been here for a while, and I'll come back and tell them 'back in my day...'" Hewitt said. "We're going to love it and treat it with so much respect."
WASU has come a long way from its beginnings in 1972 when a disc jockey manually chose and played music from vinyl records and eight-track tapes, all state-of-the-art technology at the time. Now, state-of-the-art means moving an entire radio station from one location to the next is as easy as a flick of a button on a smartphone; state-of-the-art means that a DJ can fill the airwaves with music in digital format from a computer—sitting in the sand, 300 miles away.
The picture frame windows that stretch from one side of each studio to the other in the George G. Beasley Media Complex still bear the manufacturer's stickers, but there are no traces of band stickers anywhere—yet. That's something that the next generations of broadcast students will have to take care of. It's probably time to start a new sticker collection.
The success of the station's first broadcast from its new home relied on two things—the click of a button on a smartphone and a disc jockey with his toes in the sand.
Beasley Media Complex
(opening video of new Beasley Media Complex on Rivers Street, music bedding)
Dan "Vallie" Hill, Practitioner in Residence, Department of Communication: I've been in the business for over 40 years and as long as I've been in the business I've heard of George Beasley's name. He's one of the pioneers of the industry. His generation are pioneers in the industry and set the tone and groundwork for what the industry became, and obviously over a period of time George became one of the giants of the industry.
Hill: I love the type of man George Beasley is. He's modest, he's professional, he's thorough, he's goal-oriented, he's determined, he carries himself like a true professional, and I think he's an inspiration to a lot of people. I have an admiration for him. I enjoy spending time with him.
Hill: This is a very impressive building, an impressive facility and I think it's one of the most beautiful buildings on campus. We're standing on the radio floor now and on the radio floor we have the main on-air studio, which is very impressive. We have a duplicate studio right next to that studio that we're calling a teaching studio. And we also have on this floor and the next floor the audio and video labs, and we've more than doubled the number of labs we have so it's going to be great for the students to be able to work here. So, it's really a beautiful facility, and of course the TV facilities, so it's a very impressive facility and it will be great for the students.
Emmy Welsh, electronic media/broadcasting major, Class of 2015: That's the only thing I've been hearing about for a month now, is just 'Oh my gosh, the Beasley building, oh my gosh, have you seen it, have you looked inside?' This, I'm grinning only because I'm so excited. I see a lot of fun happening in this room because I know that everyone is so eager. I feel lucky to be the first one in here right now, actually.
Patrick Sidlovsky, electronic media/broadcasting major, Class of 2016: I was just like a kid in a candy store, you know, just exploring as much as I could and just thinking what these empty rooms are going to be like in the fall. I can't wait to see what kind of surprises I'll find there.
Alex Gulledge, electronic media/broadcasting major, Class of 2015: It's just going to be a great building. It's going to be home for the communication department and that's the thing I'm looking forward to most. We're all ecstatic for that and for lack of a better, more adequate term, we are pumped.
Glenn Dion '11, photo/video assistant, Appalachian State University: These new students are really lucky to have this brand new building to create and to develop into what they want it to be. The school can provide the building, but it's really the students that are going to create what's inside it and what comes out of it.
Lauren Brigman, electronic media/broadcasting major, Class of 2013: The current students as well as the alumni are really excited about the building. As an upcoming alumna of Appalachian, I want to give back and I want to come back and visit for this ribbon cutting. And so, I'm happy to say I'm a graduate of Appalachian, because I feel like we already have a solid program but having a better facility, better equipment, things like this, will definitely put us one step ahead.
Gulledge: You do it right, you make sure it's on time and you make sure that you do the best you job you can. I think the communication department really likes to pride themselves so that we have really great students and we have a great group of professors and different teachers that will help you become a great broadcaster or great radio personality.
Brigman: I'm very thankful for George Beasley and the other alumni of Appalachian who care so much about the program that they are putting their faith in the upcoming generations to, you know, really carry on that legacy that they've already established and carry that through the broadcasting industry. I was honored when I heard that I was a recipient of the George Beasley Scholarship, actually two years in a row, so if he were here today, if I was able to see him face to face today I'd just say 'thank you' because he's just done so much and I hope to one day live up to that same standard through broadcasting.
Hill: George, I'd just want to take the time to say to you thanks, I appreciate all you do, all you've done, all you continue to do. Your legacy is going to be a very impressive legacy, not only for what you've done in the industry already but what you're doing for the future of the industry working with these young people.
Dion: As an alumnus who will never be in a classroom in this building or work in this building, I just want to say thank you because you've added so much value to my degree.
Gulledge: Someone says George Beasley, I immediately think of this building. And, I think of someone who put a lot of effort into making this building possible and someone that really believes in the department enough to put their name on a building. I think that's pretty special. So when I think George Beasley, I think of someone who is a great man. Thank you for giving us somewhere to call home. Thank you for giving us somewhere to flourish.
Welsh: You have given me my future in this career. This is exactly what the com department needed. It's going to help better the careers of so many future students and give us background and just bridge the gap between college and career—in such a way that it's unexplainable. So, thank you so much for bettering my life.
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