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College Radio Barely Present Amid New "Educational Radio" Licenses

Actual students doing college radio

It was some pretty exciting news from the FCC on Tuesday, when they announced the list of 59 organizations who won the non-commercial educational radio license lottery. Although I was thrilled for some of the winners, as a college radio observer, I was saddened and surprised to see that very few colleges or educational institutions applied for these coveted licenses.

As Paul reported on Wednesday, the largest percentage of new licenses went to religious groups (at least 17), whereas only a handful were awarded to educational institutions (colleges, primary or secondary schools). In some cases college radio applicants lost the race against religious groups due to the complex point system (looking at local ownership, population served, etc.) that the FCC uses in its decision-making.

Scanning through the FCC’s grid of groups who applied and won, it’s often quite difficult to figure out which are actually affiliated with educational institutions. For example, Central Florida Educational Foundation (which won a new license) operates a whole network of 10 non-commercial Christian radio stations in Florida.

A closer look at the 7 winners in the college/primary/secondary school category reveals that only a few are likely to have any sort of student involvement in the resulting radio stations. Two of the groups already run networks of religious stations, one runs a LPFM community station, and another runs a public radio station. Of the remaining three institutions, one has both public and student radio stations, another has a broadcasting program, yet no station, and a third currently owns the license for a student station.

So, the question from me is, why didn’t more colleges/universities/high schools go for it back in 2007 and apply for these new radio licenses? It’s clear that religious groups are organized and have the funding to pursue radio expansion, but it saddens me that college radio for the most part sat on the sidelines while these licenses were doled out to groups with a very different take on educational radio. The Future of Music Coalition has a great fact sheet that gives a bit of perspective on the process for obtaining these licenses and it’s a good reminder that financial considerations are probably a key reason why college stations might have been scared off from applying.

Here are the college radio groups who won:

Arizona Western College (AZ): Won. They are already in the public radio business, owning the license for public radio station KAWC, so this may be for an additional outpost of that station.

Iowa Lakes Community College (IA): Won. They have a broadcasting program, but don’t seem to currently have a licensed radio station.

Iowa State University of Science and Technology (IA): Won. They already own the license for student radio station KURE 88.5 FM in Ames, Iowa. The new license is for Sioux City, so they may just be expanding their coverage.

Edinboro Early School (MD): Won. Edinboro Early School is a nursery school/kindergarten/child care facility and they own the license/provide most of the funding for WEES Radio 107.9 FM, a LPFM station. The community radio station is not located at the school, but airs family-oriented programming. As part of the application process, they have agreed to “divest” the LPFM station in order to obtain a full-power license.

Curators, University of Missouri (MO): Won a license for Warrenton, Missouri. University of Missouri holds the license for several public radio stations, including KMST-FM and KBIA-FM. There is also a student-run station, KCOU-FM.

*Westminster Academy (FL): Won. This is a K-12 Christian school. Interestingly, Westminster Academy already owns Christian radio station WAFG, which seems likely to be a separate entity from the school. They also applied for 3 different licenses in Florida in this round.

*Liberty University (NC): Won. They operate a large Christian radio network. Interestingly, they beat out the Board of Trustees, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

And here are the colleges who lost:

Appalachian Performing Arts Inst. (AR): Lost to Speakonit Radio

San Diego State University (CA): Lost to Borrego Springs Christian Center

State of Oregon, State Board of Higher Education (OR): Lost to IHR Educational Broadcasting (CA)

Brigham Young University-Idaho: Lost to Idaho Community Action Network

McNeese State University (LA): Lost to Neighborhood Improvement COAL ACORN

University of Massachusetts (MA): Lost to Berkshire Community Radio Alliance

Appalachian Performing Arts Institute (ME) AND

University of Maine (ME): Lost to Fraternal Building Association

Pensacola Christian College (MN): Lost to Religious Information Network

Board of Trustees, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill: Lost to Liberty University (NC), which operates a large Christian radio network (as reported above)

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4 Responses to College Radio Barely Present Amid New "Educational Radio" Licenses

  1. Eric February 22, 2010 at 11:02 am #

    The reason so few colleges were successful in applying for radio stations is because the commercial broadcast industry has a very narrow view of college radio to begin with. Many broadcasters refuse to use college and university broadcasting programs as the exclusive source for new talent.

    Coming from a community college in the St. Louis area, I have not been treated very well by the commercial broadcasters in St. Louis. Many students incorrectly believe that they can land jobs in broadcasting when they get their two-year or four-year degrees. What they don’t know is that even broadcasters in smaller markets are reluctant to take graduates from college broadcasting programs, because of their incorrect perceptions that “former college jocks require additional training.” I required very little additional training when I worked in commercial radio in the late 1990s, after spending a decade in college and Christian radio.

    Until commercial broadcasters become regulated again, and they are required to use college and university broadcasting programs as the ONLY sources of new talent, fewer college radio stations will go on the air, and more will be forced off the air.

  2. Matthew Lasar February 22, 2010 at 1:42 pm #

    My sympathies go out to Eric. My guess is that when some commercial stations say that college radio jocks need too much training, what they really mean is that they need too much untraining. Specifically, they need to be disabused of the expectation that they’ll actually get to do something on a commercial signal approaching the creativity of the college or Christian radio airwaves.

    I was unaware, however, of any past requirement that commercial stations had to use college/university station talent as the only pool of labor. Perhaps my RS colleagues or our readers can shed further light on this history.

  3. Eric March 2, 2010 at 6:35 pm #

    I will have to agree with you on the “untraining” part, Matthew. The reason why commercial radio listenership is so low is the lack of creativity and a lack of commitment to public service. In the final few years of my last gig at a public radio station, I actually had to discourage students from seeking careers in radio.

    Commercial broadcasters should be required to use college radio as the exclusive source of new talent…I believe that college radio is the only legitimate source of new air talent. Historically, college radio has not been widely used as a source of new talent; they have incorrect perceptions about college radio. When I was working in college radio back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I heard plenty of air talent that had commercial potential. The commercial radio industry, unfortunately, ended up ignoring their potential. If I were to buy a commercial radio station, I would only get new talent from college radio, and hire people who either have not worked since graduating from college or who have struggled in their careers. Deregulation, in my honest opinion, has made college radio nothing more than an afterthought instead of a source of new talent.

  4. Jennifer Waits March 3, 2010 at 11:40 am #

    Thanks for the commentary. I hadn’t considered that the reason that more college stations didn’t apply for new licenses was connected with the broader commercial radio industry. I’m sure that some colleges have a hard time justifying having a college radio station when it’s not tied to a specific department (for example, broadcasting) or pre-professional program; but I think that’s shortsighted of these institutions. (In reality, college radio prepares one for tons of different careers, building skills in teamwork, management, event planning, promotions, public speaking, etc.)

    In my experience working at 4 different college radio stations, the majority of DJs and staff aren’t looking to work in radio professionally. However, that doesn’t mean that people haven’t gone on to radio jobs. A handful of DJs at my current station also have jobs at commercial stations. Others have gone on to work in the record industry. But, for the most part, the motivating reason to stick around a college radio station like mine is for the love of doing the kind of radio where the DJ controls the playlist.

    However, I do know of college stations that take much more of a pre-professional attitude. They model themselves after commercial radio (some college stations are actually commercial stations), with playlists handed down from management and formats designed to attract large numbers of listeners. I would imagine that DJs at these stations might be more likely to seek out commercial radio jobs and would be better prepared than freeform DJs like me.

    But, yes, wouldn’t commercial radio be more interesting, though, if more of its DJs came from a looser college radio environment. Indeed.

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