As the end of the year approaches, I’m already starting to think about what the overarching themes of 2014 were for college radio. Like many recent years, it’s been a mix of good and bad news this year. The situation at Georgia State University’s WRAS-FM is a high profile example of public radio’s ongoing interest in urban FM signals. In a piece for PopMatters called The Uncertain Fate of College Radio, Joe Youorski recounts not only the loss of student daytime programming over WRAS-FM, but also makes comparisons with college radio shutdowns and drama at other schools.
The deals have hit alumni, students and communities emphatically, as college radio has long been a constant at American universities. These stations offer creative freedom and experience that’s hard to find elsewhere, allowing students to learn the dynamics of working in radio while refining their musical interests to fit an audience with rotations of new music and genre-specific shows.
None of these sales have gone through without a fair share of fights, as staffs and supporters ardently oppose the deals through social media campaigns and appeals to the universities. Sites likeand dot the web, showcasing battles past and ongoing.
However, the takeovers also have another feature in common: no amount of backlash from listeners or students has proven successful in keeping a station under the control of a student staff. While staffed by college kids and funded by donations and student fees, a university station’s radio license is still controlled by the administration. Sales and deals do not have to include students in any manner.”
Do Students Always Protest Station Takeovers?
Although I agree that many students, faculty, listeners and alumni have fought station takeovers and sales (KTXT, KTRU, KUSF, WRVU, and WRAS most prominently), there are also examples where students and stations were seemingly nonplussed by the loss of a terrestrial radio signal (WJMF for example at Bryant University), not only due to public radio deals, but also as a result of licenses getting turned back in to the FCC.
Successful College Radio Protests
The lack of protest in some of these situations should not be disheartening for those who do want to fight a station sale or takeover, however. As I’ve mentioned before, there are some truly inspiring examples of stations that have convinced their administrations to hang on to their licenses, including:
WWPV: As I wrote back in 2011, the St. Michael’s College radio station in Vermont successfully fought off a potential sale to Vermont Public Radio through various protest efforts, including a letter-writing campaign. Read all the details here.
WUEV: The University of Evansville received an offer to purchase the radio license and instead of quietly pursuing the sale, it posted an open letter to the community asking for feedback. After receiving heartfelt letters in support of the station, the President announced that the station would not be sold. Read more about the situation at WUEV here.
Radio One in New Zealand: In a pretty risky move, University of Otago’s Radio One protested a rumored sale by going off the air for a week in 2011. After a letter writing campaign and many meetings, the group in control of the station announced that the station would not be sold.
KTXT: It’s also worth looking at the example of Texas Tech station KTXT. Students were shut out of the station in 2008 and major protests ensued. Although the station still went through with its plans to air public radio programming in the short-term, by fall 2011, students had returned to the station. It’s definitely a sign that all hope is not lost as long as the license is not sold! Read more here.
I’d love to hear about more examples of stations that have successfully fought off potential sales or takeovers, as these stories can be inspiring and instructive for all of us involved in college radio.
The Administration Doesn’t Always Hold the Radio Station License
Additionally, it’s helpful to remember that not all college radio licenses are held by universities. The PopMatters article states that “a university station’s radio license is still controlled by the administration,” which isn’t always the case.
There are college radio licenses that are actually held by separate non-profits, which means that they have their own boards of directors and can make their own decisions about license sales. That was actually the case with WRVU at Vanderbilt University, which was sold to Nashville Public Radio earlier this year. Ironically, a separate non-profit, Vanderbilt Student Communications (VSC), was formed in the late 1960s in order to give student media more freedom. According to the VSC website,
As a potential solution to both the University’s increasing concern for liability brought by the boundary-pushing student media, and student journalists’ desire for greater autonomy to protect them from real or perceived threats to expression, a proposal was extended to incorporate the Publications Board. In September 1967, faculty members…filed a charter of incorporation with the state of Tennessee.”
Vanderbilt’s student publications and radio station WRVU became part of the VSC at that time. Years later, the board of the VSC (which includes both faculty members and students) decided to sell of the radio license for WRVU, so lack of administrative oversight did not save the student-run station. In a press release, VSC argued that selling the valuable license and transitioning WRVU to an online-only station would allow the group to create an endowment in order to preserve all student media at Vanderbilt.
Tips for Stations Fighting Radio Station Sales and Takeovers
There are some stations that are contemplating license sales right now (including Wellesley College station WZLY and WDBK at Camden County Community College) and students may or may not have any idea. A few years back I put together a list of tips that can help stations be less likely candidates for a sale or takeover. My end of year recap from 2011 also outlines various protest activities and has links to articles about some panel discussions that delved into this topic. You can also get an in-depth look at the fight to save various college radio station licenses in the Radio Survivor archives.
Also, as a commenter on the PopMatters piece points out, having an outside group cover the programming for one’s college radio station does not ensure compliance with FCC rules. In a recent case, American International College was dinged by the FCC for late license renewal and public file violations. Although WAIC was student-run for many years (be sure to read the passionate comments to our story from station alumni), it’s recently been broadcasting programming from WNPR/Connecticut Pubic Radio.
More College Radio LPFMs
As I mentioned in yesterday’s LPFM Watch, Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina has been granted a construction permit for a new low power FM radio station. Earlier this month, California State University Monterey Bay in Seaside, California was also granted a construction permit. The school already operates an online station called Otter Media. By my count, that means that 59 new college radio LPFM licenses have been issued since January, 2014!
College Radio History in Canada
Earlier this week, Brian Fauteux delved into some fascinating Canadian college radio history in his piece for the Radio Survivor Academic Series. Be sure to take a look and also let us know if you have details about college radio archives. We are still collecting information for the Library of Congress’ Radio Preservation Task Force.
We cover the culture of college radio every Friday in our College Radio Survivor feature. If you have college radio news to share, please drop us a note at EDITORS at RADIOSURVIVOR dot COM.