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Fighting for College Radio…and Winning: Part Two – WUEV

WUEV Comic by James MacLeod 2006

People on the front lines fighting college radio station sales are always looking for signs of hope and for evidence that protests can make a difference. There have, in fact, been a number of college radio stations that have convinced their administrations to hang on to their stations and embrace them as a valuable part of the university experience. We’ve already shared the story about WWPV’s successful campaign to save their station back in 2007 and now we turn our attention to WUEV in Indiana.

Back in 2006, University of Evansville posted this letter to its community regarding the future of its college radio station WUEV in Evansville, Indiana:

UE Community Input Needed Regarding the Potential Sale of WUEV

The University has received an offer from an interested party to purchase the campus radio station, WUEV, a non-commercial station broadcasting at 6100 watts on the frequency 91.5 FM. If the station is purchased, the University may investigate replacing WUEV with a station broadcasting exclusively to the UE campus. Currently, there are no academic ties between WUEV and a UE academic program, nor ties with the Center for Student Engagement.

Will you please share your input to assist in considering pros and cons of this endeavor?

For example, pros of selling the station might include generating additional income for the University, reducing expenses and reallocating space occupied by WUEV in Olmsted for other programs. Cons could include the fact that the station has a long history of providing service to the campus and community as well as the broadcast of both men and women Division I athletics events.

Please share your feedback by e-mailing…

According to WUEV’s General Manager at the time, Michael Crowley, it was rumored that a “religious broadcasting entity” was interested in purchasing the frequency. Crowley said that WUEV’s 6100 watt frequency made them an “attractive” target and he added that the broker involved with the deal was confident that the sale would go through.

However, immediately after the letter was sent to the campus community on January 31, 2006, protests began. SaveWUEV.com was launched, a Save WUEV Facebook group was established, and letters were written (many of which are archived on the Save WUEV website). At the time, WUEV alumnus (1999-2002) Amber Wardwell wrote this letter of support:

“Never in my entire time at UE did I find a place that felt so much at home as WUEV. It was patently unique in the fact that so many people with so very little in common were able to work together to create such an amazing product. I made friendships through WUEV that crossed religion, major, hometowns, and nearly every other boundary through one common love- the love of music. There was truly no other place like it on campus.

…My love of my alma mater is profound, but it is truly nothing compared to the blood, sweat, tears, and unconditional love that I gave to WUEV for three and a half years of my life. The legacy of WUEV is unparalleled, and is nothing but an asset to the University. Please do not take away a home-away-from-home from the students that are yet to come.”

A little over a week after the college sought input on the proposed sale, the President of the University, Stephen Jennings, sent a letter to the University of Evansville community stating that the station would not be sold. Jennings wrote:

“I was pleased to see the level of interest in WUEV expressed by students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents and the general community. It is gratifying to see the amount of support the station enjoys. Based on this input, and our knowledge of the station, we will:

  1. Call on our new Vice President for Academic Affairs to provide recommendations on how to increase the academic component related to WUEV.
  2. Ask John C. Barner, vice president of Institutional Advancement; Marcia Dowell, director of University Relations; and Mike Crowley, station manager for WUEV; to design and execute a plan to reduce expenses and increase community support for WUEV — including the establishment of a “Friends of WUEV” support organization and increase friends and volunteer support.

At a point in the future I will review the success of these initiatives to see if we should reconsider other options.”

Crowley credits the university for engaging in an open process with both WUEV and the student body about the future of the station. Crowley said, “they were very upfront and forward with me about the process.” He contrasted that with situations at KUSF, WRVU, and KTRU, saying, “a lot of times these things happen in the dark of night.” Instead, at University of Evansville, Crowley believes the university was “fair” in its “exploratory phase” in which it openly discussed the station’s future. Crowley added that the small size of the private university (just over 2000 students) may have made a difference. He described it as a “really tight-knit community” where “people are very vested in things” and “people had an attachment to the station.”

Crowley left WUEV in 2008 and told me that the station has continued to thrive since then, especially after moving to new digs in the student center in the “heart of campus” soon after his departure. Today, WUEV continues to broadcast at 91.5 FM with a mix of music (it’s jazz during weekday daytime hours), talk, and sports. According to WUEV’s current General Manager Tom Benson, “WUEV is doing well today” and the student staff of around 50 people has been working hard in support of the station. WUEV has won awards for its sports broadcasts and its children’s show (Rated G) and jazz show have also been up for radio awards.

Benson told me that following the events of 2006, WUEV has added an Advisory Board “to try and make sure that the radio station is aligned where it needs to be and focused on a direction which makes the radio station not only a viable learning experience for UE students, but also a valuable entity for the University.”

There is a “Friends of WUEV” group, as proposed by the administration back in 2006. According to Benson, “If people give to the radio station, they become a member of the Friends of WUEV.  In return they get a small gift of gratitude (a window cling of the station) to show their support around town, and they also receive special updates on the station periodically throughout the year.  Their gifts to the radio station help fund the station and its operating budget.  The hope and goal of the program is to really grow the financial support of WUEV to ensure that events such as 2006 do not happen again in the future.”

James MacLeod, the artist behind the comic at the top of this story is a history professor at University of Evansville. At the time of the rumored station sale he was only involved with the station as a listener. In addition to spreading the word about the fight to save the station through his WUEV-themed comics, he also wrote letters to around 30 faculty members and members of the athletic department asking that they contact the university president.

MacLeod explained, “I wrote to all the head coaches of our 15 D-1 athletics teams, urging them to get their student athletes to contact the president. I spoke to lots of people, and spoke out against it at the UE Senate meeting that discussed it. I think the athletes’ voices were really helpful.” Eventually, MacLeod became even more involved with WUEV as is now a soccer broadcaster there. He tells me that, “The station is doing great, and is a big part of our new union, so they are in way better shape than in ’06. I’m delighted, as I campaigned hard to help save it, and now I do color on the soccer broadcasts!”

Benson, who was also DJ at WUEV back when was a student from 1996 to 2000,  shared his advice to stations that might be in crisis. Benson said:

“The best advice I can give is to be involved as much as possible at the radio station in which you work.  As an alum of WUEV, the potential sale of the radio station in 2006 was really an eye-opening experience for me. I had not given much financially to the radio station since I had graduated, and while I did games for the station after graduation, I was not really involved in the day-to-day workings of things.  After 2006 though, I took a much larger role in the station.  When the Advisory Board was created, I told the general manager at the time that I would love to help out in any way and became a member…

After taking over as the general manager last September, I’ve tried to incorporate some of the same things and experiences that made the station enjoyable during my time as a student, while listening to the students’ input to see what things they would like to try and accomplish.  The key though for the students is to make sure to get involved and show how important the radio station is to you.  I think that some students take for granted some of the opportunities that are provided at most college radio stations (I know that I did when I was a student), and you cannot do that, or one day, you may wake up without a station to work for.  I know that sounds a little cold, but unfortunately, it seems to be the way things are going at some colleges across the country.  But, if students take pride in their station and really soak up every opportunity to them, others will take notice that the radio station is something that students love and a valuable piece of the college experience.”

Crowley concurred, saying that his biggest piece of advice to stations is that they need to have on-going support from their campus. He said, “you can’t rest on your laurels” and added that it’s important to have a “good mix of campus support and community support as well.” He also explained that college radio is vital to a college campus and that it’s important role within campus culture is often overlooked. He said that for many students, their “fondest memories [are of the] time they spent working at the campus radio station.”

Crowley said he was saddened by the loss of terrestrial signals at stations like KTRU and argued that, “University administrators have no sense of what the college radio station is all about…that’s the most disheartening thing…” Crowley added that he hopes this changes and that administrations will take a “longer, harder look” at the importance of their stations to their campus communities.  He explained that universities that sell their frequencies “don’t end up profiting as much as you think” and in exchange for some cash, their frequencies are “gone forever.” Crowley praised University of Evansville, saying, “I was really encouraged by the fact that the university saw what the station had to offer…and didn’t make a rash decision…”

The situation at WUEV, although inspirational, is also a reminder that the fight to save a station is never really over and that everyone in college radio needs to be mindful of what is being done to ensure a station’s future. If you know of other stations that have successfully rallied to fight a proposed sale, please post their call letters in the comments, as I’d love to be able to share more stories like this.


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