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WRVU Sale May Violate Tennessee Non-Profit Regulations

Each and every college radio station facing a potential takeover by an outside group has a unique situation and the twists and turns of the transactions taking place at KTRU, KUSF, and WRVU are evidence of that. In each case, questions have been raised about not only the lack of transparency in these dealings, but also in terms of whether or not the transactions comply with FCC rules, state laws, and each individual university’s policies.

Today the Nashville Scene is reporting that the proposed sale of Vanderbilt’s student radio station WRVU (now known as WFCL after the call letters were secretly changed) could face some scrutiny under Tennessee non-profit law. WRVU is owned by the non-profit Vanderbilt Student Communications (VSC), which is run by a board made up of students and faculty.

The board has always maintained that they are separate from the administration of Vanderbilt University and that they are entitled to sell off the station if they so wish. According to the article, this assumption may not be true if the station makes up the majority of VSC’s assets:

“But perhaps more important is the legal arrangement that binds VSC to Vanderbilt University, giving the school more stake than some of its  own officials might have realized in the actions of the student-run  body. That, and a decision as to whether WRVU’s broadcast license  represents ‘substantially all’ of VSC’s assets, both have the potential  to scotch the deal.

In a June 3 letter to Vanderbilt chancellor Nicholas Zeppos and the Vanderbilt Board of Trust…,  the nonprofit advocacy group WRVU Friends and Family lays out a  provocative argument against the sale. Along with contravening VSC’s  stated mission of providing ‘realistic opportunities’ in radio programming for VU students, the letter says, the sale would violate the Tennessee law that governs nonprofit corporations, because the university itself is a member of the VSC but was offered no input on the sale.

…A source  close to the Vanderbilt administration tells the Scene that a meeting of ‘top management’ was called on June 17 to discuss the sale,  and that officials expressed ‘reason for concern’ regarding Vanderbilt’s relationship with VSC.”

Every since the June 7th shut-down of WRVU‘s terrestrial signal, Save WRVU has been working to fight this pending sale. In the meantime, Nashville Public Radio is utilizing the 91.1FM frequency for classical programming, while the webcast for WRVU is dark. Paperwork has not been submitted to the FCC regarding the sale, so it’s likely that WRVU supporters are hoping that they can persuade VSC and Nashville Public Radio to back out of the deal before the FCC is involved.


All Radio Survivor articles about WRVU can be found here. Additionally, I wrote a profile of WRVU on Spinning Indie back in April, 2010. The station’s General Manager at the time spoke about the controversy at the time over new limits on community member involvement at the station.


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3 Responses to WRVU Sale May Violate Tennessee Non-Profit Regulations

  1. Fred Smalls July 1, 2011 at 7:27 am #

    I think this really is a stab in the dark. Of course the university was involved in the sale. They would have squashed it if they had not approved of it. And in terms of the overall VSC, it is likely that in terms of actual budget, operations, and assets, WRVU was not the biggest part of the operation. The nearly daily print edition of the paper and its electronic equivalent are probably a bigger overall asset and revenue generator.

  2. Mark Jeffries July 5, 2011 at 7:51 am #

    Which brings up what seems to me to be the major reason for the WRVU sale–the fact that it was taking its sister publications’ revenue and not generating its own. One would wonder why WRVU didn’t do on-air pledge drives and underwriting announcements or events like WFMU’s record fairs to raise operating funds for the station instead of continuing to take money from VSC’s other activities.

  3. Sharon Scott July 6, 2011 at 11:32 am #

    Fred & Mark ~

    As you likely know, the VSC receives over $400,000 annually from the Vanderbilt Student Activity fee. According to Federal Documents filed by the VSC administrators, the station cost approximately $10,000 annually to maintain (VSC salaries, however, have grown to @ $450,000 annually). The radio station was always considered a learning lab rather than a money maker.

    Nevertheless, the DJs and Alumni of WRVU have formed a nonprofit organization that proposed many fundraising ideas to the VSC. We were never given the opportunity to see these projects to fruition, nor were were provided with the 18-month lease-purchase option given to Nashville Public Radio.

    This debate certainly is not about the cost of maintaining WRVU. It IS about the value of the frequency. Newspapers do not have any real worth. As VSC Chair Mark Wollaeger stated early in the ordeal, “We don’t own anything”. Anything except the frequency that is…

    The University has maintained since September that because VSC was a seperate entity, they played no role in the ordeal. It is now believed that Chancellor Zeppos or the Board of Trust must sign off on the deal. Call it a shot in the dark if you like, I call it a Big Deal.

    It will certainly be interesting to see how it all develops.

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