TERRE HAUTE -- Makyla Thompson is one of the talents behind Indiana State University’s student-produced radio talk show, and her voice will soon have a more reliable signal when a new transmitter is powered up.
The equipment for WISU-FM 89.7 should be installed by semester’s end, marking the non-commercial station’s first technical upgrades in more than 20 years.
WISU simulcasts NPR member station WFYI of Indianapolis. Once a week, the university pre-empts national public radio programming to air “All Things Wabash Valley,” featuring interviews with local dignitaries and campus speakers.
On Monday afternoon, Thompson was behind the control board in WISU’s dimly lit Dreiser Hall studio, editing her introduction for this week’s show.
“I just learned how to fade music in and out,” said the senior communication major from Indianapolis.
Thompson is also a disc jockey for ISU’s second student-run station, WZIS-FM 90.7, which will receive its own boost as part of the upgrades. The stations transmit from the same tower in West Terre Haute.
Plans for the signal improvements started rolling when the university acquired WZIS’s frequency from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in 2014. They also come at a time when stations have been converting to digital from analog broadcasts.
“We knew we needed to do some work to get it where we wanted it to be,” said Phil Glende, executive director of student media.
ISU received federal approval first to upgrade WISU, whose audience is largely made up of public radio fans beyond campus.
While the station is moving to a more powerful transmitter, it will still broadcast at 13,500 watts. (By comparison, Terre Haute’s most listened-to commercial radio stations transmit at 50,000 watts.)
On clear days, WISU’s signal can be heard as far west as Marshall, Illinois, north to Danville, Indiana, and east to Greencastle.
The new transmitter will still broadcast analog signals, but can be converted to digital if needed, station manager Rich Green said. Radio stations coast-to-coast are upgrading to digital signals.
Sound quality will be similar, but the new transmitter will help prevent the rare occasions when WISU experiences dead air.
The station would need to go silent briefly while the new equipment is installed.
“Once we do, we’ll probably let our listeners know,” Green said, adding the station has already notified WFYI that they will temporarily be off the air.
Upgrades for WZIS, whose variety music format caters largely to students, are planned for next summer. That station is not getting a new transmitter.
The signal will be boosted to 5,400 watts from 860 watts, giving the station a much larger footprint in the listening area. WZIS currently only reaches about as far as Brazil.
“You’ll be able to hear it in places you can’t hear it now,” Glende said.
That means a potentially broader audience for student disc jockeys like Grant Simms, who was working an on-air shift in a studio down the hall from WISU’s.
Simms, a junior communication major from Indianapolis, is using his experience at the station as a launching point for a professional radio career. He completed an internship at a hip-hop station in his hometown this summer.
“We get to be hands on,” he said in between on-air segments. “So we actually learn how you do it in the real world.”
Reporter Nick Hedrick can be reached at 812-231-4232 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Nick on Twitter @TribStarNick.