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UMass Dartmouth Plans to Sell License for College Radio Station WUMD to Rhode Island Public Radio

Today, it was announced that University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth intends to sell the 89.3 FM license for its college radio station, WUMD-FM, to Rhode Island Public Radio (RIPR) for $1.5 million. Paperwork, which has yet to be filed, requires FCC approval.

Students at University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth are currently on winter break and members of the WUMD station staff reportedly learned of the planned license sale today, although a statement on the UMass, Dartmouth website is dated January 2. (Update: The statement was removed and a new one was posted later today and is dated January 4)

Over email, RIPR’s President, CEO and General Manager Torey Malatia told me, “Long before I came here RIPR’s management and board had an interest in adding a principal frequency to our repeater array. When I arrived, we approached UMass Dartmouth and over a year’s time, developed collaborative plans and a purchase agreement.” Malatia corroborated reports that students at WUMD were not aware of the planning process surrounding the pending sale, saying that, “The head of Student Affairs—which oversees all the station operations—was involved. The student hosts and DJs were not.”

University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s Assistant Chancellor for Strategic Communication, Media Relations and Special Projects John Hoey explained over email that, “RIPR approached us about a year ago, and we have spent the last several months crafting a collaboration that we believe will benefit our students and the region we serve. We brought various stakeholders in to the conversation at different times over the last several months.” In regards to the FCC filing, he told me, “We expect the paperwork to be filed this afternoon.”

According to a statement posted on the WUMD website, “WUMD will continue to deliver its programming online. Under the terms of the collaboration, UMass Dartmouth will immediately receive $1.5 million in cash from RIPR to endow need-based financial aid and community engagement funds, $617,100 in underwriting time on the RIPR network and additional on-air promotion over the next 10 years. UMass Dartmouth and RIPR will also collaborate on a series of academic and community engagement activities, including internships and public forums.”

Additionally, RIPR plans to work with the future online-only version of UMass Dartmouth’s radio station. Malatia shared further details with me, explaining that, “We will be assisting WUMD with ramping up their features as an internet radio station (borrowing from many best practices out there: TRP, CKUT, WKCR, KALX, WBCQ, Brooklyn Radio and many others), including video streaming, and the like. We will also be cross-promoting WUMD on our RIPR website and on our social media, and, yes, there are a number of internships and project-related collaborations that we will be committing to with UMass as part of this.”

WUMD’s history dates back to at least the 1970s and the station has had a series of call letters, including WUSM and WSMU. The WUMD website states that, “On June 10, 2006 WSMU moved from 91.1 FM to 89.3 FM and changed its call letters to WUMD. The new station/frequency operates at a licensed power of 9600 watts and broadcasts with state of the art HD technology.” WUMD’s emphasis has been on new and local music. According to its website, “Like most radio stations on the non-commercial end of the dial, WUMD serves up a daring departure from the mainstream.”

Rhode Island Public Radio runs talk-oriented public radio stations, airing mostly syndicated programming from NPR, BBC, and PRX. It holds two full power radio license, WRNI-AM (which it leases to Latino Public Radio) and WRNI 102.7 FM. Additionally, it has agreements to air its programming over two additional stations: 91.5 FM WCVY, owned by Coventry Public Schools and The Wheeler School’s WELH 88.1 FM. Radio Survivor readers may remember that college radio station Brown Student Radio (BSR) went online-only in 2011 after its 14-year time share agreement with WELH ended.  BSR applied for a new low power FM license during the 2013 application window and was awarded a construction permit for a new FM station, WPVD-LP at 101.1 FM, so may return to the Providence, Rhode Island airwaves soon as part of a three station time-share.

RIPR expects that it will be several months before its purchase of WUMD goes through. Additionally, RIPR hopes to move WUMD’s transmitter. According to a post on the RIPR website: “The move is also aimed at improving spotty reception for listeners from parts of Providence to the East Bay…Malatia said RIPR plans to spend an additional $1 million to move the transmitter for WUMD from North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, to Tiverton. He said RIPR’s board will launch a capital campaign to pay for the costs of acquiring WUMD and to also invest in the station’s digital infrastructure and its reporters.”

One long-time WUMD volunteer told me that she was “very sad and shocked” to hear the news today and social media reaction has been mixed. RIPR posted on Facebook: “Good news: RIPR is expanding its potential audience,” and comments in response ranged from “Congrats!” to Liam Gray’s: “Oh what a bummer. I hate it when NPR stations gut college programming.” I’ve yet to hear an official response from WUMD.

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