From Green Street to your Radio: The Techie Side of WPGU

Radio is something that many people may take for granted. Turn it on in your car or at home and the music or the talk show just plays. In reality, the process that brings the sound from the radio station to listeners’ ears is incredibly complex. Kenji Nanto explained just how much technology and work goes into producing WPGU 107.1 FM, the student-run radio station that is part of Illini Media Company.

Everything begins, as one might expect, in the studio. The signal from the DJ’s mixer travels up to the omnia on the third floor of the Illini Media Building. This piece of equipment, according to Nanto, allows the engineers to “play with the sound” and balance the overall signal depending on what the station is broadcasting. Hockey games, for example, have a wide range of sounds (such as slapshots and checks into the boards) that make hearing the announcers rather difficult. The omnia gives the engineers the ability to bring out the sounds that are more important and difficult to hear while still having a feeling of live listening through those secondary sounds.

The omnia then sends the signal to a transmitting antenna on the fourth floor of the Illini Media Building, and it is then sent on to a receiving antenna on the top of The Tower at Third. WPGU has a transmitting room at the top of The Tower, and at least once a year, the student engineering staff goes up there to make sure things are running smoothly. From this room, the signal is finally sent to the very large antenna that can easily be seen atop The Tower at Third due to the red lights. This antenna sends the signal, at last, to radios all over the campus area.

For events outside the studio, the engineering team has a “pure remote production unit” that includes its own sound board and portable transmitting antenna. The signals from these events travel from the antenna via one of two frequencies (455 or 450 MHz, or megahertz), meaning that WPGU theoretically has the potential to run two different remote events at once. This signal is sent back to a receiving box that goes to the production room and then into the studio where it can be controlled by the DJ and sent all over campus.

In the actual studio, the DJ has access to the sound board that controls what the audience can hear along with the volume. Pre-scheduled music is set in a program called “Scott Studio” that allows the DJ to play each track from a touchscreen at the proper time.

For live music performances of local and visiting bands that come into the studio, the engineering staff is able to bring in extra sound boards to add effects to the instruments and vocals. On top of this, they can change each channel to an “Auxiliary” setting in order to hear how the different microphones or instruments sound through the radio before actually going on air. Because the power behind the signal decreases as it goes through the different mixers, these sound checks are crucial to a successful live performance.

The WPGU engineering staff is made up of music enthusiasts in a wide range of majors (from electrical engineering to creative writing). Those who are interested in the extremely unique experience this group offers should email Kenji Nanto at [email protected]