Virginia Tech Campus Radio Plays On

As the horror of the Virginia Tech shootings unfolds, students at the local university radio station have been up around the clock. They're giving interviews to international media, as well as broadcasting their own coverage of the shootings and aftermath. Staying on the air has become a symbol of campus morale.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

I'm Madeleine Brand.

Coming up, reaction to the chilling video made by the Virginia Tech killer. Some call it Web savvy media manipulation. Others ask, should NBC have aired it?

CHADWICK: First, for the past four days maybe the best source of news and information for students and faculty at Virginia Tech has been on the FM dial at 90.7.

Ms. HOLLY FAKE (DJ, WUVT): And you're listening to WUVT-FM Blacksburg. This is Holly Fake with the Snack Pack. And I'm going to play a lot of music that's all about healing after these horrible events that have affected our campus. So give us a call, 231-WUVT. Tell me what helps you heal; or if you want to talk or do anything, there's a lot of things that we can do.

BRAND: As the details of Monday morning's shootings began to unfold, no major news organization had reporters in Blacksburg, Virginia, but a DJ from student radio station WUVT, a freshman named Thomas Sakach, talked with us that morning. His was the first account of the shootings heard by NPR listeners.

(Soundbite of previous NPR broadcast)

BRAND: And I understand, Tom, that the university's president just gave a press conference. What did he have to say?

Mr. THOMAS SAKACH (DJ, WUVT): I'll read the president's statement verbatim entitled, "The Shooting on Virginia Tech Campus."

The university was struck today with a tragedy of monumental proportions. There were two shootings on campus. In each case there are fatalities. The university is shocked and horrified that this would befall our campus. I want to extend my deepest, sincerest and most profound sympathies to the families of these victims, which include students. We are currently in the process of...

CHADWICK: The staff at WUVT has stayed at work, covering the news, playing music, and somehow dealing with their own grief.

NPR's Rachel Martin has the story.

RACHEL MARTIN: When I walked into the studio, one exhausted staff member is trying to catch a nap on a worn out couch in the hallway.

Unidentified Man: Hi.

MARTIN: Hi. I don't mean to wake you.

A young woman in a hurry walks in talking on a cell phone, her light brown hair tucked under a Virginia Tech baseball hat. This is Michelle Billman.

Ms. MICHELLE BILLMAN (General Manager, WUVT): I am the general manager of WUVT 90.7 FM. I'm a senior English and communication major.

MARTIN: Billman's eyes are a bit bloodshot and she appears a little numb from the last few days. When the second shooting happened around 9:30 at Norris Hall, she was about a hundred yards away in another building. When she was finally released from a three-hour lockdown, her priority was to make sure her friends and radio staff were all accounted for.

Ms. BILLMAN: And I heard from everyone, but no one could get in touch with Kevin. And people were calling me worried, and I was trying to call him. And someone looked up his class schedule and told that he was in that building. And so from there, you know, people start driving to hospitals.

MARTIN: Kevin is Kevin Sterne. He's an engineer at WUVT, and he was in Norris Hall Room 207 in German class. He was shot in the leg and is still in the hospital. Billman and others on the radio staff visited him. Billman says Kevin is on his way to recovery, and she's grateful for that. When I asked her how she's holding up, Billman let's go.

Ms. BILLMAN: I'm okay. It's - I mean, it's something that changes the way you look at things for the rest of your life. I mean I grew up outside of D.C., so, you know, 9/11 hit us really hard. The sniper attacks hit us really hard. And it just seems like everything just keeps getting closer and closer. I'm sorry. So, I don't know like when I'll ever feel safe.

MARTIN: Her family is from Woodbridge, Virginia, just outside Washington. They've been calling her constantly and had suggested she come home for a few days since classes are canceled this week. But that's not an option for Billman or others here.

Ms. BILLMAN: I mean, I could go home, but it's just kind of running away from what's happened. And, I mean, I think the people here need to stay here and claim what's ours. And say this is our town and our school, and no one could take that away.

MARTIN: So Billman, along with the rest of the radio staff, continue to do what they do best.

Mr. ADAM CAPUANO (DJ, WUVT): My name is Adam Capuano, just a DJ here at WUVT. This last track that's playing at the moment, I dedicate that song to Mack Warming(ph). He's a friend of mine from back home, for the ones who didn't make it. So this song kind of goes out to everybody back home in Chester, Virginia.

MARTIN: They're answering the phone, giving interviews, doing their own reporting and, somewhere in this space is a long mellow instrumental track, finding time to let it all sink in.

Rachel Martin, NPR News, Blacksburg, Virginia.

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