Last week we learned that University of Massachusetts Dartmouth was in talks with Rhode Island Public Radio and plans to sell the FM license for college radio station WUMD. Paperwork was filed with the FCC, so the clock is ticking for public comment. Station participants and listeners were still adjusting to the news, but by this week, those opposed to the sale have begun to organize and speak out.
WUMD volunteer Toni Pennacchia helped to put together the Save WUMD Facebook page and issued a press release that says in part, “The proposed takeover has met with quite a bit of skepticism from many affected in the listening area. A main concern has been the secretive nature of the negotiations between RIPR and university administration. The university did not solicit input from WUMD staff or management, UMass Dartmouth students, or the general public, including station listeners. Given that both RIPR and UMass Dartmouth are allegedly operating in the public trust, this sort of closed-door approach is worrying.” She continues, “The station members are not going down without a fight and have started on a #SaveWUMD campaign on social media with a dedicated page. The campaign is seeking community members to join their voices in opposing this maneuver on the part of the university and RIPR. The public is able to petition against this sale until February 3rd, either by emailing Tom.Wheeler@fcc.gov or writing a petition to deny.”
I reached out to Pennacchia and she told me that she’s been with WUMD since 1996 and serves as a show host and as the station’s World Music Genre Director. Over email she expressed sadness about the news, saying, “January 13th, 2017 will mark the 45th birthday of this station’s broadcast…I am devastated as are the DJs and listening community and I am very disappointed with the actions of the university but not completely surprised as the university has given us less support over the years in making awareness of us on campus and beyond.”
Adam Lawrence, co-host of the WUMD show “State of the Queer Nation” and host of the music show host “Broadband Noise,” has been with the station since 2007. He emailed me that he was “heartbroken” by the sale news, adding, “We have an incredibly devoted audience, some of whom I’ve been lucky enough to know by name and speak to weekly when they call in to my show.” He told me that listeners had been offering words of support. He recounted, “I’ll usually have 5-10 calls in the course of a show, but last night I was taking calls almost non-stop at times – I think I was on the phone more than I was on the radio mic. To have heard from so many people from all different walks of life calling in to voice their support and to ask how they could help nearly brought me to tears on-air. I firmly believe we have the greatest audience, and as a volunteer team, our efforts at the station have always been for them and our love of the music.”
According to Providence Journal, “John Hoey, assistant chancellor for public affairs at UMass Dartmouth…pointed out that WUMD’s programming would not be ‘lost,’ since the station will continue to be available on the internet.”
However, Lawrence expressed concern over WUMD moving online-only, arguing that, “Our FM presence is important to us because it’s both the most straightforward way to hear us, and the way that most of our listeners have found us. When we chat with our listeners, we very often hear that they’d previously had no idea we existed, but were tuning through the FM band one day, found music they loved on our station, and stuck with us ever since. By going online-only, we risk becoming a very small needle in an absolutely monstrously huge haystack.”
Those opposing the sale are also pointing out that music-oriented WUMD will be replaced by Rhode Island Public Radio’s mostly syndicated programming. Pennacchia’s press release states, “Unlike RIPR’s approach of rebroadcasting national content and having a skeleton crew to operate locally, WUMD has actively engaged in student and community outreach in its forty-five years of existence. The station currently allows community members to participate in programming, providing unique educational and volunteer opportunities that a small outlet of a national organization like NPR cannot match.” According to South Coast Today, “Torey Malatia, RIPR president and CEO, in a an email to The Standard-Times, acknowledged that currently, the majority of the RIPR slate is syndicated.”