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college radio station WUMD. Photo: WUMD

UMass Dartmouth Files FCC Paperwork for Proposed WUMD College Radio Station License Sale

Yesterday, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth announced plans to sell the license for music-focused college radio station WUMD-FM to Rhode Island Public Radio (RIPR) for use as a talk-oriented public radio station. Today, FCC paperwork was filed, revealing more details about the deal. In addition to UMass Dartmouth’s application to assign the WUMD license to RIPR, RIPR also filed a construction permit, requesting that WUMD’s transmitter site and city of license be moved from North Dartmouth, Massachusetts to Tiverton, Rhode Island. Both applications require FCC approval and now that paperwork for the sale is on file with the FCC, the public has 30 days in which to file petitions to deny the license assignment application.

In a statement included with its filing, RIPR writes:

The WUMD transmitter site is currently located on the campus of The University of Massachusetts at North Dartmouth, Massachusetts. RIPR proposes to relocate the WUMD facilities to the WLNE-TV (New Bedford MA) tower located at Tiverton, Rhode Island, and to change the station’s community of license to Newport, Rhode Island. WUMD has served as a campus and community station operated by the students and faculty of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. RIPR’s acquisition of the station will enable it to expand its program service in furtherance of its goal of providing service throughout the State of Rhode Island.”

RIPR’s President, CEO and General Manager Torey Malatia told me over email today that this proposed transmitter move will help with coverage, saying, “Our request was to move the transmitting antenna south from its current location in North Dartmouth MA, across the Rhode Island border to a tower at Tiverton, RI. This specific location will result in an increase in the signal’s geographic spread and an increase in the population density of the station’s reach. Moved into Rhode Island like this, our request for a main studio waiver (meaning the studios are not physically in the building also housing the transmitter) changes the city of license to a location within a limited area. That will be Newport, RI.”

An Asset Purchase Agreement dated December 22, 2016 is included with the FCC filing and indicates that Public Media Company (previously known as Public Radio Capital, a company that has helped broker a number of college radio station license sales, including KUSF) served as a broker for RIPR for this deal. Malatia told me that “PMC mainly handled engineering studies” and UMass Dartmouth’s Assistant Chancellor for Strategic Communication, Media Relations and Special Projects John Hoey also addressed this with me via email, saying that RIPR reached out to him directly. Malatia elaborated, saying, “Really, John Hoey from UMass Dartmouth and I were the main point people on this project, although many of the administrative staff at UMass Dartmouth were involved in helping plan the design of the relationship. PMC didn’t function actively in the talks, planning, negotiations, or project ideas associated with the collaboration.”

Terms of the deal include a $1.5 million purchase price, $617,100 worth of underwriting over the course of 10 years (which will consist of the on-air announcement every two hours: “Reporting on South Coast communities, is an initiative of the Rhode Island Public Radio/University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Journalism Alliance”), as well as offers of internships, cross-promotion, etc. The agreement also states that UMass Dartmouth will retain the call letters WUMD as branding for its radio station, with RIPR seeking new call letters for 89.3 FM.

The long-time college/community radio station WUMD is expected to transition to an online-only station (WUMD already has an established online stream) and RIPR has promised assistance with the station’s online presence. The agreement states, “UMass Dartmouth will assist RIPR in establishing an on-line radio service (“WUMD Radio”). Such assistance will take the form of discrete consulting services and will not include payment of any out-of-pocket expenses by RIPR. The parties will agree on the number of hours per year in services in this regard that RIPR will provide to UMass Dartmouth; the service hours will not exceed 40 hours during the Term.” Although the “Term” is a period of 10 years after the closing date of the deal, Malatia explained to me that those 40 hours would be “largely performed at once, immediately after license transfer.”

RIPR also agreed to promote WUMD radio on its own website through January, 2019, with the expectation that WUMD Radio would also include a link to RIPR on its website. The agreement further states that, “Through March 2018, WIPR will promote WUMD Radio features, content, and programs on RIPR’s website, Twitter, Facebook, and other social platforms on which RIPR regularly interacts with followers.” Currently, RIPR has over 6,000 likes on Facebook and more than 23,000 Twitter followers, compared with WUMD’s 2,000+ Facebook likes and 1,500+ Twitter followers.

A unique aspect of the deal involves members of RIPR’s Board of Directors being appointed by UMass Dartmouth. The agreement states: “Upon the closing and throughout the Term, at least one (1) member of RIPR’s board of directors will be a designee of UMass Dartmouth, subject to RIPR standard Nominating and Governance Committee review; and, within three (3) years of the Closing Date, at least three (3) members of RIPR’s Community Advisory Board (“CAB”) will be appointed by UMass Dartmouth’s Chancellor, subject to CAB membership committee review, with preference given to individuals residing in the Dartmouth-New Bedford-Fall River, Massachusetts areas.”

Malatia explained the benefits of this arrangement for RIPR, telling me,

We see the UMass Dartmouth relationship as an ongoing collaboration so a board member who has been put forward by UMass Dartmouth and approved by the RIPR nominating process helps assure that UMass Dartmouth and its community are represented in our governance. UMass Dartmouth is deeply connected to the civic and socioeconomic issues of the region. Supplementing Rhode Island community representation on our Community Advisory Board with representatives of South Coast communities is an essential step in making sure that the entire public within our service area is served by our journalism.”

Hoey pointed out why this is beneficial for UMass Dartmouth, telling me that, “This recognizes that UMass Dartmouth is a major cultural and economic force in Southeastern Massachusetts and can assist RIPR in serving the region, which will comprise about one-third of its area.”

As far as the timing of the agreement and announcement during winter break, Malatia spoke to the lengthy process involved, saying, “It just takes a long time. UMass Dartmouth and RIPR started talking about this last winter and my board’s final vote to approve occurred on December 20th.” Hoey explained, “The paperwork is dated December 22, two days after the RIPR Board voted on the matter. Classes ended December 12. Most students and faculty had left campus for break before December 20. We did not want to make an announcement of this importance during the holiday week. Students return on January 23.” He said that “Most WUMD staff and DJs learned of the announcement on Tuesday and Wednesday” [January 4 and 5]

When I asked Malatia how RIPR listeners have responded to the news of the pending license purchase, he said, “Overwhelmingly well.” In contrast, Hoey reported to me that that the mood at UMass Dartmouth and at WUMD is quite different, saying, “There is certainly a feeling of sadness about the news, which is understandable because these are people who have devoted their hearts and souls to this station, some for decades. We greatly value their talents and contributions, and want them to continue serving the community through the online station. We believe there are some very interesting models around the country to consider as we move forward.”

WUMD currently runs a variety of programming, with students, alumni, faculty, and community members (even high school students- as revealed in this UMass profile of a college freshman who started at the station as a high school sophomore) serving as volunteer hosts and DJs. Music shows cover a wide range of genres, including jazz, blues, world, folk, Celtic, alternative, reggae and electronic music. Additionally, WUMD airs a variety of public affairs shows and some syndicated programs, including Democracy Now! and CounterSpin.

Looking ahead, Hoey said that in regards to his hopes and goals for the future online-only version of the UMass Dartmouth station, “…there are some exciting models around the country — Radio Depaul in Chicago and Radio Free Brooklyn, for instance — but ultimately WUMD will and should become what members and the community want it to be.”

I reached out to WUMD and the station had no comment about the forthcoming changes.

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