September 2, 2010

New home on the dial extends station's range

FARMINGTON -- Broadcasting on 100.1 FM, the student radio station at the University of Maine at Farmington barely reached beyond the borders of campus.

But when the dozens of WUMF programs begin airing this month on 91.5, listeners will be able to tune in from as far away as Skowhegan.

The switch to a stronger signal inspired an overhaul of the entire station, which now is equipped with a new antenna, transmitter and sound board, as well as upgraded software.

The deejays' chairs and microphones were replaced, and the walls of the studio -- a closet-sized room in the student center -- got a paint job.

Station manager Darren Smart said along with the physical improvements, he hopes to remake WUMF's image.

"Sometimes we weren't taking it too seriously because we only broadcast from UMF to Walmart," he said.

Smart said there would be blank space on the airway and awkward transitions between songs. Going forward, he hopes the station will have a more professional sound.

"It's sort of a pride thing for the university," said Smart, a 20-year-old junior.

Every year, about 60 deejays fill time slots from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. with a variety of programs. On any given day, the music will range from classical to new world, hip-hop to heavy metal. Smart said there's one deejay who plays only Celtic music.

"People like that one because it's really unique," he said.

Also popular are the talk shows centered around sports, news and relationships, he said.

Maya Kasper, a staff member who advises the station, said she'd like to get a professor to do a show.

"It's another venue for education," she said.

Kasper said the process of having to apply to the Federal Communications Commission to change the station's frequency also offered a learning opportunity for the students, especially the ones who plan to pursue careers in radio.

"It adds to the academic experience," she said, "which doesn't always have to happen in the classroom."

The students behind the station say their work has only just begun. Once the shows have started up for the semester, they plan to give away albums and Boston Bruins tickets, among other prizes, in order to promote the station, according to junior Brady McLaughlin, the station's heavy metal music director.

McLaughlin said, now that the station is broadcasting over a wider area, he might be a little more conscious of what he says on the air, but he's not nervous about it.

"For me, it's exciting," he said. "Hopefully, we'll get more people who will call in and request songs."

Kasper said she plans to get bumper stickers for all the deejays to help spread the word that the frequency has changed. Smart said he aims to gain listeners beyond the broadcast area by advertising the station's website, where the shows will stream live.

"My biggest theme for the year is exposure," he said. "Just trying to get more and more people listening."

Leslie Bridgers -- 861-9252

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