WRFL — Reborn at 7900 Watts

Today is a very special day for WRFL-FM, the University of Kentucky’s volunteer-operated “alternative” radio station. It is, in total fact, the most important day since the day the station went on the air.

That’s because — after ten years of paperwork, construction, fundraising, and certifications — today the station’s signal was boosted from 250 watts to 7900 watts. With the full support of the FCC.

I learned of it this morning at 5:30am, after reading an email from WRFL’s implacable Faculty Advisor, John Clark:
Hi, RFLiens. Shortly after midnight, at 12:10:58, to be precise, with little fanfare, but lots of love, [Program Director] Matt Gibson and I applied our digits to the proper places on the transmitter touchscreen. Then we stood back in silence and awe (well, maybe one of us shouted Holy Shit!) and watched the digital readout climb. Without even beginning to name names, many thanks to everyone who had anything to do with this awesome event, all the way back to 1996, when we first started working on it.
After that, I got to spend my show as the first “waking day” deejay to share this news with listeners. What a joy. Pondering it myself, I’ve been overcome repeatedly with joyful little tears.

Maybe I’m just glad we’re both still alive, WRFL & I.

And while I did help start the station, I didn’t expect it to be the beacon that it is in my life, decades after those outlandish college times — and years after leaving to “get on with my life.”

1987 — 1st General Manager Scott Ferguson
inspects the station’s original tower. Photo by Jack Smith

Nor did I expect for Life to bring me back to Lexington, or for a young friend named Ross Compton — who knew I’d been involved in “the early days” of the station — to arrange a shift for me, should I want one. It hadn’t occurred to me, but I was flattered. At the time, my life seemed in terrible flux, and the idea of playing a little music on the radio seemed like a welcome diversion from the daily challenge of living alone with my struggling teenage daughter.

Flash forward eight years and here I am: Thursdays, 6 – 9 am

My daughter got her shit together, and so did I. Sometimes, I’ve flogged myself, thinking I must be a loser because I still do a radio show at a station I helped start in the late 80’s. Ironically, it could be that being on the radio is the only thing that hasn’t changed for me. Even my show — a genial “morning zoo” thing called Trivial Thursdays — I jokingly call “the show I never would have allowed anybody to do” when I was WRFL’s 2nd Program Director.

with Kakie Urch (WRFL original of originals) and Scott Ferguson (1st Gen. Mgr) in May 2010 visiting WRFL's new tower and antenna. photo ©Brian Connors-Manke

More than just error-prone volunteers playing music nobody’s ever heard of, WRFL really is a beacon. Over and over, I’ve seen it speak to people who need it for one reason or another. Within those graffiti- and sticker-laden walls, some of those people have become

May 2010 — Visiting the new tower and antenna with Kakie Urch (WRFL original of originals) and 1st General Manager Scott Ferguson. Photo by Brian Connors-Manke

my dear friends, and some of those people were not even born in 1986-7, when a handful of bright misfits (who were very similar to some of my young friends today) were trying to figure out how you start a radio station.

And that must be where the emotion comes from for me.

Because how could I feel anything but profound gratitude for this station — and my good fortune to be so involved in its existence — when it’s still nurturing me 25 years later?

Today’s power upgrade will deliver the sounds of 60+ volunteer deejays to far more ears than yesterday. Previously limited to Lexington, we’ll now reach west beyond Frankfort. South past Nicholasville. And north towards Cincinnati. And into the country — to places with names like Stamping Ground and Waddy. And Peytona, of course.

And that riot of sounds travelling at 88.1 megahertz will matter to some of those who hear it. Those sounds will matter in a way that says something like: “Maybe it’s okay to be weird or a little different. Listen to that radio station — do those people sound normal?”

And in some strange way, this notion will give some souls the permission they need to do the wonderful things that they are meant to do.

How could I ask to be involved in anything better than that?

• • •

This reflection is entirely dedicated to my friend and regular inspiration, the inestimable Kakie Urch, a force of nature without whom so many of us wouldn’t be talking or even know each other — to say nothing of listening to this beloved radio station.

0 Replies to “WRFL — Reborn at 7900 Watts”

  1. WRFL has been such a blessing for our family. When Denali was a wee one, playing happily and babbling, "For comments, questions or even just to chat, call 257-9735." The station's phone number was the first phone number he learned. He has now moved on to the Pychadelicatessen, "Fire up some incense. Fire up the lava lamp. Fire up whatever you might have handy. We'll do the rest on the Psychedelicatessen." I hope this is not a foreshadowing of things to come. This seems only fitting, as I listened to WRFL when I was in labor with him. It was a Sunday night and Darin had to call a friend at the last minute to cover his show. Our friend, Perrin, covered it. He played a special show catered to me. I felt so honored to have music being broadcast over the airwaves of Lexington that was just for me. It was great and fitting until labor started getting more intense and Perrin played The Rolling Stones' Gimme Shelter. That was when I asked (Okay, technically, I yelled, "Turn that shit off!") that we change the music. When my husband and I were first dating, he had a 3-6am slot. Every week, I would struggle to stay awake, only to "rest my eyes," around 2am, thus missing going to the station with him. I've heard most of my favorite musicians for the first time on WRFL and seen many at WRFL sponsored shows. WRFL has been a constant in my adult life and I hope to be looking back and saying the same thing 20 years later.

  2. Oh Heck Yeah! This is great! I've got lots to say on RFL. Yrr oral history isn't done yet is it? I'll never be an official OG, cause I started in year 2 – but whatever.

  3. My oral history project is mostly wrapped, but I'll make an exception to collect a narrative from you, Jit.

    And Lauren — that's a sweet account of your time except when you got to the part about first dating Darin and — never mind. Let's keep this halcyon. Yeah. Pleease..

  4. I too remember being a teenager in central KY and how the Psychedelicatessen carried me through my hippie phase, blasting out of my dad's old cabinet speakers that I'd rigged up in my bedroom. I remember laying on my floor and thinking for the first time that there was a place for people like me in the world. Later, when I joined the station in college and got my musical brain exploded, it felt that way again, but a million times over. WRFL just unites its listeners and volunteers like that. I'll never forget it.

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