While other students went away for the holidays, WREK staff logged in close to 200 hours of work during the winter break in preparation for the new high definition (HD) transmitter that will be installed this spring.
Tech’s student radio station will replace its aging transmitter with a new HD transmitter funded by SGA last November. WREK announced this week that Harris Corporation won the bid for the purchase and installation of the new transmitter, saving the station an additional $20,000 from earlier estimates.
“We’re getting a huge discount because we’re going HD. We went from $210,000 to close to $150,000. It really beat our expectations,” said Brad Petrick, WREK general manager.
Harris originally offered WREK a 20 to 25 percent discount, leading to the $170,000 estimate on which the SGA allocation was made. Harris’s final proposal was for $148,763.92.
The replacement transmitter, which will allow WREK to broadcast an HD digital subchannel alongside its existing analog format at FM 91.1 MHz, is scheduled for installation the week of March 18.
“We could possibly be off the air the whole time, but most likely we’ll be off the air for only a few hours…You will still be able to pick up WREK the same way you did before, but if you have an HD radio, you will be able to pick it up with better quality and clearer sound,” said Thomas Shanks, chief engineer of the station.
Following installation, the new HD subchannel will begin broadcasting prerecorded content except for special events, such as sporting events, for which the Athletic Association committed $25,000.
“Because we’re going HD, students will be able to hear more programming and sports,” said Alok Marwaha, WREK business manager.
Automation will run the majority of the time until WREK is able to set up a separate production studio and staff to create original programming. This is expected to happen by the fall of 2008.
“Our main constraint is we don’t have the capability to get a new studio…maybe real estate is an issue because we’re looking to expand. So for now we threw around the idea of reshifting content on the subchannel,” said Marwaha.
Based on the cost of moving the existing studio into its current location in the Student Center, Marwaha estimated the cost of creating a new studio at about $50,000.
During WREK’s presentation to SGA last November a few senators questioned the need to upgrade to HD given that few people, especially students, would be able to access the subchannel.
“You have to think about what’s coming down the road. We have to plan ahead accordingly to expect HD radios in cars and clock radios that are HD compliant. The radio world is looking at the subchannel as a quality system and as a primary channel,” Petrick said.
Shanks also explained that the HD technology could be used to provide listeners with additional features, including real-time traffic and the ability to save songs for playback.
“As an institution with great technology and research ability, we can also develop the HD technology in better ways,” he said.
According to Petrick, only two other student radio stations in the United States currently broadcast on HD.
“We are joining the top tier of student radio stations across the nation,” he said.
Aside from the expansion into HD radio, WREK is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year with an all-day music festival tentatively scheduled for the end of March. The concert, which will showcase the musical diversity of the station, will feature a headlining act along with rock, jazz and world music performances.