Wednesday, November 8, 2017

WUVI ‘Surviving the Storm’

WUVI 1090 am and 97.3 FM
Amid winds over 185mph WUVI, the University’s student-run radio station, stayed on air and transformed from a classroom to a professional radio station overnight.

During Hurricane Irma, DaraMonifah Cooper the station manager, Corey Hanley senior communications major and D’Ajahni Estrada-Petersen, another communications major continued broadcasting throughout.

“The storm was supposed to come on the Wednesday and I was scheduled to work on the Tuesday and the Wednesday,” says Hanley sports commentator, analyst and radio personality at WUVI. “I decided to come into work on the Tuesday and there was a curfew that was supposed to be in place the Wednesday morning so I wouldn’t be able to leave. I love WUVI you know and I decided to come to work and just stay the night and throughout Irma.”

D’Ajahni Estrada-Petersen & Corey Hanley in WUVI Studio 1
- from left

“Irma was more wind damage, of course, we had some water that came in, the whole second floor was filled with water,” notes Kyrek Benjamin junior communications major and radio personality at WUVI who also spent many days and nights throughout the ‘storm weeks’ working at WUVI. “We worked together with security to keep the water from reaching any equipment that could be damaged while someone else kept content on air. We were alternating between bailing water and keeping the show going.”

WUVI houses a variety of computers, radio consoles, records, codex boxes and other tech that allows the station to function. Penha House is also home to the main network room for the University. Preventing damage to those rooms allowed Penha House to become the communication hub it did after Hurricane Irma.

“Eventually we had to put the station on manual and deal with the water situation but at some point during Irma, we had to turn our attention to the station to bail water from our main studio, Studio one,” says Hanley. “We have four studios at WUVI and there were only 3 studios that had issues with water during Irma.”

After Irma, WUVI and the Communications lab, which also serves as the main classroom for all communications classes, turned into a communication hub. Penha House was the only building that retained internet connection and in Penha House, WUVI’s studios were the only rooms in Penha House with everything working – internet, phones. Thus, many of the students on campus during the storm used the facilities at Penha House to contact family members and vice versa.

“WUVI students and staff facilitated students with contacting their families and peers by going to the East dorm where students were sheltered and making a list as well as taking pictures and videos of the students, which were all, posted on Facebook,” said Cooper. “For the weeks following the storms, we also responded to hundreds of Facebook messages, emails and seemingly endless phone calls from concerned parents, community members out of the territory, businesses and media agencies, who were listening to WUVI online.”

The students, under the leadership of Cooper, provided the listening audience with updates from the Governor’s press conferences, local and regional news updates from WSTA-AM 1340 on St. Thomas and WSTX-FM 100.3 on St. Croix as well as information from the different disaster relief organizations in the territory.

“We had music playing during Irma but every hour we would give updates,” says Hanley. “We had our email open and there was internet on one of our computers so when a message was sent to all the different stations concerning updates we would get those updates and relay the messages on air just to keep people up-to-date because we were one of two or three stations that were still able to broadcast during Irma.”

“We recorded the governor’s briefings during and after the storm and also re-aired them for the listening audience,” adds Benjamin.

DaraMonifah Cooper and Iffat Walker -
from right
Lance Smith, Kyrek Benjamin, Shaudea Prince and Mike Sentz were among some of the students that came in after Irma to help WUVI in its operations.

“Since we were one of two or three stations that were up and running at the time through the storm, with the people that were here we were able to turn it from just a learning environment to a full-blown commercial radio station,” says Hanley.

Two-person teams were made to make operations run smoothly. One student handled providing content on-air, while the other dealt with walk-ins and phone calls.

“The students that were on campus, there were a lot of parents calling the stations after Irma concerned about their children,” says Hanley. “So of course, we got phone calls like crazy from parents looking for their children and people in the community trying to gauge the situation after Irma. Some of the students came in and were able to relay a message to whomever, whether parents or guardians and used Facebook to contact their loved ones because Penha House was one of the only buildings with internet access.”

Kyrek Benjamin & Corey Hanley in WUVI Studio 1 -
from left
WUVI and its workers spent their recovery period helping the community stay in contact with each other and the outside world. During this recovery period because of damage caused by Hurricane Maria, WUVI was able to broadcast via their FM frequency and the online stream and they continued to provide their communication services.

“We also did a video, and told the student to communicate what they needed to in the video letting their loved ones know that they are okay for the time being, which was posted on Facebook,” says Benjamin.

A Facebook video message was also made to relay the well-being of student to worried family members abroad. See video here:

“D’Ajahni, the other student that stayed in the station during the storm, personally went and collected all the names of the individuals in the video and tagged them on posts so that the people in their friend groups online would find it [the posts] easily,” says Hanley.

However, two weeks after Hurricane Irma, Maria, another category five hurricane, came barreling towards the territory again. This time WUVI was struck with even more water damage.

“For Maria though, Maria was the water one,” recalls Hanley. “This one the flooding was really happening. For Maria every studio had water, but we had more help at this point so it was easier to deal with but there was a lot of water. During Maria, the station couldn’t go on, for Irma we were solid throughout and we were still functioning up until Maria. But then Maria came and we weren’t able to keep the station up and running. The water was just too much to keep the station up and running.
Kyrek Benjamin, Corey Hanley & D’Ajahni Estrada-Petersen
in Studio 4 (COM Classroom/lab) - from left
At that point, WUVI was forced to suspend their operations until further notice.

“Even though Irma cause the most physical damage, we were still able to function on air and broadcasting upbeat music to keep spirits up and keep updating the community,” says Benjamin.

“We tried to do the same things after Maria, but things just went left and we weren’t able to do that. At that point, we only had the stream up because our AM and FM were down but it was still something. But with Maria, all of a sudden, the water came out of no place and then the stream was down,” adds Hanley.

When the semester restarted Instructors Dara Cooper and Dr. Chenzira Davis-Kahina, director of the Virgin Islands and Caribbean Cultural Center, had intentions for students to volunteer at WSTA 1340AM and WSTX-FM 100.3 to continue teaching students in a real-world laboratory while theirs is unavailable.

“We also have been simulcasting from some of WSTX’s content and researching ways to air WSTA's content on our stream while we work on getting our FM (and AM) back on air,” says Cooper. 

Kyrek Benjamin, Majestik Estrada-Petersen & Corey Hanley in
Studio 4 (COM Classroom/lab) -
from right
The current update about WUVI’s funds and status is that the grant has been extended for a year so that the station can utilize the funds remaining from last year, but those funds are on hold from being spent on anything so students cannot be hired to staff the station. The station is currently still off air, un-manned and the Merlin, Gandalf, Bridgit technology (equipment that allows content transmission)  is not speaking to each other until internet issues are resolved. No one is on staff for WUVI, unless persons volunteer… which of course, individuals still are.

“I’m back to my full-time job at CES as well as teaching part-time for CLASS, which now obviously minimizes my volunteer time ability to help rebuild WUVI, but I’m doing whatever I can when I can,” notes Cooper. “I just got two bottles of MOLD CONTROL today (one for each campus) from Dr. Brathwaite-Hall, so that I can continue to advocate for a healthy environment in the spaces that WUVI/students, faculty, staff and community members utilize, including the radio stations and classrooms/COM Labs. Within the past few days, I’ve been communicating with a handful of requests for people who are interested in WUVI for one reason or the other for advertising, shows, and PSAs, so the community definitely has recognized the value of it. This is motivating because it shows me that even in its current crippled state; people are still wanting to support and benefit from it. WUVI will rise again.”

The station broadcasts on 1090 AM, 97.3 FM and online at They have also extended their broadcasting prowess by using social media, especially Facebook Live. This student radio station is home to many communications majors past and present and needs the assistance of the general public it serves to continue the work they are doing in educating students about traditional and new media.

To help the UVI students, faculty and staff visit the UVI Rise Relief Fund page.

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