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Only on 10: 95.5 WBRU goes digital, smart phone app coming out soon

95.5 WBRU is off the F.M., and migrating to the web and digital platforms on WBRU.com, where programming is expanding and more students are involved. (WJAR)

It's been six weeks since the local legendary alt-rock station 95.5 WBRU signed off its terrestrial signal.

It’s off the F.M., and migrating to the web and digital platforms on WBRU.com, where programming is expanding and more students are involved.

The building still stands at 88 Benevolent St., which is near the Brown University Campus on the East Side of Providence.

While the studios are the same, the way the programming is getting out that's changed.

“It was difficult, but necessary,” said Kishanee Haththotuwegama, who is also the general manager of WBRU.

“I think it was a decision that came from a lot of years of work and research and sadness. But also, there's a lot of hope for what's coming next. I see it in, like, the 40 people that just showed up at our door when they heard the things that we're trying to do,” Haththotuwegama added, referring to the student volunteers who are eager to pitch in now that WBRU is digital only.

The initial transition was not without drama.

Two staffers were suspended for 10 days after a profanity-laced goodbye broadcast. After two minutes of dead air, Christian Rock satellite-delivered K-LOVE came on the air, which leases the 95.5 frequency until the final $5.63 million sale is complete in December.

The mission statement for the commercial, but separate entity from Brown University, student-run outlet, has always been "a training ground for new and emerging media.”

First, WBRU was an A.M. station, that then migrated to F.M. There was a big uproar then, because not many people had F.M. receivers, and couldn’t hear the broadcasts.

History, Haththotuwegama said, has a way of repeating itself.

“We're moving (in) ways that were being put out there,” as happened in the past, she said, and that are “not the same anymore.”

But being true to the mission statement is key.

“The content and the vision is the same. We will continue to meet the new technology as it comes forward, and distribution models,” she said, referring to the way people receive the programming digitally.

For example, The Retro Lunch, which was killed by consultants earlier this year because the numbers weren't there, is now back on the online version of WBRU.

Due to its popularity, there's talk of an entire 24-hour digital stream of Retro WBRU to add to the existing 360 Degree Black Experience and WBRU streams.

A series of shows with interviews on the local music scene are being rolled out now, too, with a news and documentary unit.

The pilot program for “Soundwave” has now been produced, and can be heard here. It focuses on the legendary Living Room concert venue in Providence. None of that would have been possible on one terrestrial radio frequency, according to Haththotuwegama.

She also said online listening for September doubled to 45,000 visitors from the previous month when the terrestrial programming was still active.

With the annual operating budget that equals the interest payments from the cash sale, as well as the renewed interest from the current generation, the passion to make it work digitally is high.

A smart phone app will be released next week. It’s expected to greatly increase online streaming numbers that are now roughly at 300 listeners during the day, signaling a new chapter in the 50 years-deep story called WBRU.

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