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2014: The Year that College Radio Embraced Low Power FM

As I reflect back on 2014, the big college radio story for me is low power FM (LPFM). By my count, 64 colleges and universities were granted new LPFM construction permits in 2014. This is incredible to see, as it is yet another sign that terrestrial radio is still relevant to young people. In addition to LPFM, 2014 also brought with it another wave of media attention for college radio as word broke that Georgia State University students were being removed from daytime FM broadcasts over college radio station WRAS-FM in Atlanta.

Positive Energy Surrounding the More than 60 LPFM Construction Permits Granted to Colleges and Universities in 2014

During my visit to Seattle last fall I was able to meet students who were working towards getting new LPFM college radio stations on the air at Seattle University and University of Washington, Bothell and they eloquently articulately the allure of LPFM, telling me that it will help to elevate the status of their formerly online-only stations.

Humboldt State University was one of the first new LPFMs to get on the air, launching in April, 2014 after receiving its construction permit in February, 2014. As I reported in a piece for Radio World, LPFM was also a big theme of the annual College Broadcasters Inc. (CBI) convention in October 2014, with several panels and roundtable discussions devoted to the topic.

Some of the colleges and universities that were granted new LPFM construction permits in 2014 include (but are not limited to): York Technical College (Rock Hill, SC), University of Wisconsin-Parkside (Kenosha, WI), University of Mary Hardin-Baylor (Belton, TX), Piedmont College, (Demorest, GA), University of North Alabama (Florence, AL), West Virginia University at Parkersburg, Journalism Department (Parkersburg, WV), Rocky Mountain College (Billings, MT), Middlesex Community College (Middletown, CT), University of Hawaii at Hilo (Hilo, HI), Sweet Briar College (Sweet Briar, VA), Neumann University (Aston, PA), Saint Michael’s College Inc. (Colchester, VT), Cloud State University (St. Cloud, MN), Delgado Community College (New Orleans, LA), Central Oregon Community College (Bend, OR), University of the Virgin Islands (JOHN BREWERS BAY, VI), The Trustees of Indiana University (Kokomo, IN), Peralta Community College District (Oakland, CA), CSU Monterey Bay (Seaside, CA), Livingstone College (Salisbury, NC), Lasell College Radio (Auburndale, MA), Kentucky State University (Frankfort, KY), and Morton College (Cicero, IL).

I might add that 2015 is starting out well, with two more college radio groups being awarded construction permits (South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, SC on January 5, 2015 and Brown Student Radio in Providence, RI on January 7, 2015). One such group, Brown Student Radio (BSR), has been trying to get back on terrestrial radio for several years, since losing its airtime over a local school’s FM signal in 2011. Although BSR is currently in a time-share, I’m sure they are thrilled to be one step closer to getting back on FM.

The Sights and Sounds of College Radio in 2014: Touring Stations Shows the Diversity of College Radio

2014 was a big year for college radio station touring for me and I still haven’t written up all of my visits! During my radio station field trips this year I found many encouraging signs that college students are enthusiastic about radio in all of its forms. I saw many online-only stations, visited some FM stations (including a commercial radio station at Harvard University), and also toured some new stations that are just getting started. I can’t overstate the diversity of college radio. No two stations are alike and I continue to be amazed by the unique culture of every station. I tried to capture a bit of that in my recent post that highlights the 10 Fascinating Things that I saw at college radio stations in 2014 as well as in my pictorial tour of Boston radio.

WRVU Sale Finally Goes Through, While Former WRVU Allies Prepare to Launch New LPFM

In March 2014, after several years of protests, the FCC assigned the former Vanderbilt University student radio station license to Nashville Public Radio. Formerly WRVU-FM, the station’s current call letters are WFCL. The group WRVU Friends and Family has been fighting the sale ever since students and community members were taken off of WRVU-FM in 2011. In an interesting twist, WRVU Friends and Family was granted a construction permit for a new LPFM station in Nashville, Tennessee in December, 2014. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt students continue to program the streaming radio station

Georgia State University Makes Deal with Public Radio Group and Removes Student Programming From WRAS-FM During Daytime Hours

Word broke in May, 2014 that Georgia State University in Atlanta had signed a secret deal with Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) in order to place public radio programming over student radio station WRAS-FM’s airwaves during daytime hours. Student DJs were told that their programming would continue online, even though WRAS had never put much attention towards online streaming.  Public outcry began immediately, with students, alumni, concerned Atlantans, musicians, and even a rival public radio station voicing their concerns on social media, at protests, and to national press.

After digging into the story, it came out that Georgia Public Broadcasting had been trying to get access to the WRAS airwaves for quite some time. Although a group of Georgia State University alumni came up with an alternate proposal (to counteract the student media opportunities offered by GPB), GPB still launched its broadcasts over WRAS-FM during the daytime beginning in summer 2014.

Protests continued throughout 2014. See the SaveWRAS website for the latest updates also take a look at Creative Loafing’s look at how the changes at WRAS have influenced programming at public radio stations in Atlanta.

The situation at WRAS prompted some interesting commentary about the future of college radio and the fight to save stations from sell-offs and takeovers. As has been the case in prior years, the reports of college radio’s death were premature.

Station Sales at Colby-Sawyer College and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana filed paperwork with the FCC in June, 2014 to assign the license for its student radio station WMHD 90.7 FM to Indiana State University. The station had been off the air since fall, 2013. Following the sale, Indiana University moved its student radio broadcasts to the old WMHD frequency in order to put mostly NPR programming on its more powerful WISU 89.7 FM channel.

Colby-Sawyer College in New London, New Hampshire sold the license for its radio station WSCS to the Vinikoor Family Foundation in August, 2014, after rumors of a potential sale surfaced.

Goodbye to Class D FM Stations at Henderson State, Widener University, Western New England University and Hampden-Sydney College and MAYBE Wellesley too

Class D FM stations are a dying breed and we lost a few more this year. Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas gave up the class D license for KSWH in March 2014, but it still has a LPFM station with similar call letters KSWH-LP.

In April, 2014, WNEK-FM left the air after Western New England University failed to renew its license. In September 2014, Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania turned back its license for WDNR-FM and Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia handed the license for WWHS-FM back to the FCC.

And, by the end of 2014, Wellesley College was talking about potentially selling its class D FM license for long-time student radio station WZLY. It’s sad to be losing these legacy stations and I had hoped that more schools considering getting rid of class D licenses would consider donating them to other colleges or to advocacy groups (as was the case when Reed College donated the license for KRRC to Common Frequency).

Missouri State Takes KDMC-LP off the Air and Ripon College Turns Back License for WRPN-FM

KDMC at Southeast Missouri State University also left FM at the end of spring semester, as the school shut down the LPFM station and asked the FCC permission to take the station silent on June 1, 2014. In its request to the FCC, Southeast Missouri State said,

The University anticipates, however, that it will be required to temporarily cease broadcasting starting on June 1, 2014 due to limited student and University staff and resources, and due in part to other increased media commitments undertaken by the department. In connection with an on-going review of its programming and curriculum needs, the University will re-visit the resumption of service over KDMC-LP in the near future and during the Fall 2014 semester.”

If KDMC doesn’t resume broadcasts by June, 2015, the license will automatically cancel.

Additionally, in September 2014, Ripon College turned the license for WRPN-FM back to the FCC. The student station will continue as an online streaming station.

Potential Sale of WDBK Sparks Protests by Faculty

The license for WDBK-FM has been up for sale since 2013 and in early 2014 faculty members at Camden County College passed a resolution, asking the administration to halt the sale. By summer, the station was still on the market, but there’s no word yet on if a buyer has been found for the New Jersey station.

More New Stations!

In addition to all of the LPFMs mentioned previously, other college radio stations either launched in 2014 or are set to debut soon. Farmingdale State College in New York revived student radio on campus with the launch of the streaming college radio station Ram Nation Radio in February, 2014. In Canada, Ryerson University was granted a new AM license and plans to bring student radio back to the terrestrial dial in Toronto in 2016.

College Radio Celebrates its Lengthy History

In April, 2014 I spoke at the Saving College Radio Symposium at University of Maryland on the topic of college radio history. Coinciding with an exhibit about college radio station WMUC-FM, the event kicked off another year of strong support for the importance of college radio history. Additionally, the Library of Congress kicked off its Radio Preservation Task Force and has already accumulated an impressive list of affiliate collections.

In late May/early June, 2014, I was super excited to be back on my college campus to celebrate the belated 90th anniversary of the launch of the first student radio station at Haverford College. Other college radio stations had big anniversaries in 2014, including WESU at Wesleyan, which hosted events and created a short video to commemorate 75 years of student radio on campus.

To read more about the broader trends in college radio over the years, take a look at my year-end reviews from 2013, 2012, and 2011, my decade in review piece from 2009, as well as our newly expanded About College Radio Page. Here’s hoping for a fantastic year for college radio in 2015.

We cover the culture of college radio every Friday in our College Radio Watch feature. If you have college radio news to share, please drop us a note at EDITORS at RADIOSURVIVOR dot COM.

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