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The Wheeler School to Lease FM Airwaves to Rhode Island Public Radio

WRNI to Expand FM into Providence

Last week WELH 88.1 FM in Providence, Rhode Island announced that it was working on a deal to lease its signal to WRNI, Rhode Island Public Radio, for the next 10 years. WRNI currently airs NPR news programming over 102.7 FM in southern Rhode Island and over 1290 AM in Providence. As part of this pending arrangement with WELH, WRNI plans to extend a 5-year lease for its 1290 AM signal to Latino Public Radio (which previously rented a portion of WELH’s airtime). WRNI is reporting that they hope to be on 88.1 FM by October 1 and that in exchange for airtime, “Rhode Island Public Radio would pay $75,000 dollars a year for 88.1FM as well as three percent of any additional revenues from the switch. Latino Public Radio would lease 1290AM at cost.”

This is the latest news in a series of changes first revealed in July, when WELH, licensed to the private K-12 Wheeler School, announced that after 14 years, it would be dropping its contract with Brown Student Radio (BSR Radio) beginning on August 1, 2011. BSR shared the WELH airwaves with Latino Public Radio and Radio Italia, as well as with several other programming blocks, including one run by Wheeler’s own high school students. Last Wednesday, Wheeler’s Head of School Dan Miller stated on the Wheeler website that:

“Should this pending agreement be finalized, the partnership between Wheeler, WRNI (Rhode Island Public Radio) and Latino Public Radio will provide WRNI, a place on WELH, 88.1, Wheeler’s 4,000-watt signal on the FM dial, while allowing Latino Public Radio and their robust and growing listenership, a 24/7 programming home on 1290 AM.  For Wheeler, this would be a once-in-an-institution opportunity to help bring high quality and publicly vital radio programming to a broad demographic across the entire state as well as bring the strength of Rhode Island and National Public Radio programming to our frequency.”

When I first learned that BSR would be taken off WELH, I was curious about what the plans were for high school radio at Wheeler. WELH started in the early 1990s and was the result of a student’s desire for a radio station. According to Miller’s statement, students will continue to broadcast online at Wheeler:

“Wheeler would maintain its current radio curriculum and broadcasting opportunities for its students but shift almost entirely to streaming through a new Wheeler School
Radio website (, the preferred radio outlet for our listenership.”

According to the new website for Wheeler Student Radio, the revamped station (WSRO), will be online 24 hours a day and will “play a wide variety of hit music, along with student programs, and live broadcasts of school events and sports.”

Readers might recall that WRNI had also been in discussions with Bryant University regarding the use of its 88.7 FM frequency (WJMF) in Providence. However, Boston-based public radio group WGBH ended up with the winning proposal and by next month, WGBH is expected to begin airing classical music programming over 88.7 FM in Providence.

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