Sculpture made with top of old broadcast tower reflects personality of Lexington's WRFL radio station

bestep@herald-leader.comAugust 25, 2012 

The playlist at WRFL on Saturday included some folk rock, a classic Hank Williams tune, selections from blues master John Lee Hooker and soul giant Solomon Burke, songs by kid-genre groups like Caspar Babypants, and a block of bluegrass.

It was a typically eclectic morning at the student-run radio station at the University of Kentucky.

WRFL-88.1 FM has offered a musically far-ranging alternative to tightly formatted commercial radio since it went on the air in March 1988.

Now, the station has a sculpture that pays homage to its history.

The metal sculpture, dedicated Saturday, incorporates the top of the station's original broadcast tower, which stood on the Patterson office building at UK for more than 20 years.

Workers cut the tower into pieces and removed it in 2010 while installing a new tower when the station boosted its signal from 250 to 7,900 watts.

Brian Connors Manke, a UK employee and longtime station DJ who was on the roof to photograph the installation, didn't want the old tower scrapped.

"It was like, 'Wait a second, surely we can do something with this thing,'" he said.

Connors Manke stored the old tower in his garage, then got a discussion going about using the tower in a piece of art.

Ultimately, the station commissioned Garry Bibbs, an associate professor at UK, to create a sculpture using the tower.

The sculpture is on the lawn outside the WRFL studio in the UK Student Center. It cost about $6,000, said Ben Allen, student media adviser at UK.

WRFL is supported by student fees and private underwriters.

The work includes lightning bolts — a nod to WRFL's original logo.

There is a panel with a turntable on one side. On the other side, a city skyline signifies the station's ties to the community.

"This piece represents WRFL's longtime commitment to UK's campus and the greater Lexington and Central Kentucky area, providing an alternative to mainstream radio and serving as a herald of diversity and a beacon of community involvement," Connors Manke said, quoting the plaque that will be on the sculpture. "It stands as a testament to all the people who have dedicated their hard work and passion into making Radio Free Lexington one of the premier college radio stations in the country."

Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655.Twitter: @billestep1

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