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WBRU Programming Leaves FM in Advance of $5.63 Million License Sale to EMF

At 11:59pm last night, Brown University’s student-run commercial college radio station WBRU brought its broadcasts over 95.5 FM in Providence, Rhode Island to a close, making way for syndicated Christian radio programming from K-LOVE. On Wednesday, we learned more about the impending FM license sale to Educational Media Foundation, as paperwork was filed with the FCC.

According to the WBRU Asset Purchase Agreement, the purchase price is $5,630,000. EMF has asked WBRU’s owner, The Brown Broadcasting Service, to file a request with the FCC to modify the commercial FM license in order to transition it to a non-commercial radio station. The agreement states:

Seller agrees to reasonably cooperate with Buyer in connection with the filing of an application by Buyer to modify the FCC license to designate the Station as a non-commercial facility and to request a waiver of the FCC’s ‘main studio’ rules under the provisions of Section 73.3517(a) of the FCC’s rules (‘Non-Commercial Application’) to be effective on or after the Closing Date, so long as any such Non-Commercial Application is filed on a basis that is contingent and effective only upon a prior Closing, and does not adversely affect any operations of Seller.”

The agreement stipulates that the filing of the application to designate WBRU as a non-commercial station is slated to occur at “closing,” which is expected to be between 10 and 30 days after FCC approval of the license assignment to EMF. As of today, the WBRU call letters have been changed to WLVO. An Affiliation Agreement was set to begin at 12:01am this morning, with EMF taking over programming of WBRU at this time.

The Network Affiliation Agreement states that WBRU would begin airing EMF’s K-LOVE programming at 12:01am today. In exchange for the airtime, Brown Broadcasting Service will be paid $8,000 a month in addition to reimbursable “station related operating” expenses of up to $15,000 a month. It’s an unusual case, in that WBRU has been run by a non-profit and is licensed as a commercial station. EMF is also a non-profit and its Network Affiliation Agreement indicates that it may conduct fundraising over WBRU’s FM signal. The agreement states:

EMF is a non-profit corporation which broadcasts the K-LOVE programming on a noncommercial basis with revenues generated through contributions and donations received from contributors and donors residing within communities receiving K-LOVE’s broadcast programming. Licensee acknowledges that all donations received from listeners within the Station’s service area as a result of the rebroadcasting of K-LOVE’s program signal shall be the sole property of EMF.

Licensee shall promptly forward any donations it receives to EMF at the address specified for notices herein, along with an accounting specifying the name and address of each such donor, and the date on which the donations were received. EMF shall comply with all applicable laws and regulations of the states reached by the Station’s signal with regard to solicitation of donations.”

Although it’s been operated by Brown University students, WBRU is run as an independent non-profit. Students and board members opted to sell the FM license and in an interesting twist, the president of Brown University offered to loan to station money in order to avert the license sale. WPRI writes:

The president of Brown University offered the school’s financial support to alt-rock station WBRU and cautioned students about the legal and ethical implications of selling their coveted 95.5 FM signal, Eyewitness News has learned.

In an April 27 email obtained by Eyewitness News, Brown President Christina Paxson told student members of WBRU that the university would financially assist the station if necessary, asking them to ‘carefully consider the view that the station can indeed be brought back to health.’

‘As you know, Brown stands ready to provide the station with a loan that will give you the time to make the necessary changes to the station’s operations,’ Paxson wrote.”

The article provides more back story on the vote to sell the license:

Tucker Hamilton, a former member of the WBRU team and a recent Brown graduate, said the students’ vote to sell came after the station’s professional board, comprised of industry professionals and alumni, voted in favor of the sale.

‘They felt that the financial problem was so bad that we need to vote to sell the signal, which was our most valuable asset as a terrestrial radio station,’ Hamilton told Eyewitness News. ‘They said that they looked at all the options and tried to pursue them and the only option was to sell.'”

WBRU plans to continue its radio activities online with two separate music streams (alternative rock and 360) and new podcasts. It is looking for terrestrial homes for some of its FM programming, in particular its Sunday program “The 360 Degree Experience in Sound.” According to a statement on the WBRU website:

WBRU’s long-running Sunday program ‘The 360 Degree Experience in Sound’ is steadfast in its commitment to the greater Providence and RI black and incarcerated communities. We plan on continuing that on-air tradition by finding another station to carry our Sunday programming and are currently in search of that new signal.

A new 360 produced show, Amplifier, will highlight the amazing work of existing Providence organizations that work with Black, Brown and marginalized people.”

I was surprised to hear that there’s a possibility that some shows may return to FM over Brown Student and Community Radio (BSR)’s forthcoming low power FM (LPFM) station. WPRI reports that the new LPFM has applied for the WBRU call letters and that its acting station manager indicated that the station would be open to airing content from former WBRU hosts. Radio Survivor readers will recall that BSR used to broadcast terrestrially in the Providence area and went online only in 2011 after its contract for airspace on WELH was discontinued.

Meanwhile, an appeal has been filed with the Rhode Island Attorney General, protesting the proposed WBRU license sale. GoLocalProv reports:

Former WBRU board member Tucker Hamilton says that the sale of WBRU was coerced and the process did not follow the proper steps. He is raising questions about the legality of the sale.

Hamilton appeared on GoLocal LIVE and told News Editor Kate Nagle that that process violated numerous rules of the board for the iconic college radio station.

Hamilton is part of an alumni group that has appealed to Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin to block the sale of the station to Christian radio network Education Media Foundation.”

Listeners have also been expressing sadness over the loss of WBRU’s FM broadcasts. Providence Journal shared details from the moment that WBRU morphed into WLVO last night. Andy Smith writes,

It ended, for now at least, with these three songs: ‘This Must Be the Place’ by the Talking Heads, then ‘1979’ by the Smashing Pumpkins, and finally ‘I Fell in Love with a Girl,’ White Stripes.

At least one F-bomb dropped.

Then three or four minutes of static, then K-LOVE arrives with ‘What a Beautiful Name’ from Hilltop Worship.”

It’s certainly the end of an era for WBRU, particularly considering the long history of student radio at Brown University. Students there were instrumental in the development and proliferation of student-run carrier current campus-only radio stations beginning in the late 1930s. A descendant of Brown’s early “gas pipe network,” WBRU is one of the few remaining student-run college radio stations with a commercial FM license.

Although K-LOVE is now broadcasting over the WBRU frequency, the license assignment still requires FCC approval.

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