Music City Madness

The action is still hot and heavy on the Save WRVU Facebook site, where 4,900 have signed on to help save Vanderbilt’s student radio station. This comment made Monday set off a firestorm:

••••••••• Can whoever runs this board also please change the order of who should be receiving letters? WRVU is an affiliate of VSC, not Vanderbilt University. I’m a student at Vanderbilt and was Editor in Chief of The Slant, Vanderbilt’s humor and satire newspaper. I personally know the students that make the decisions whether WRVU gets the axe or not. And to be clear, students make the decision, not Chris Carroll. So seriously, send mail to VSC and then the students (read: decision-makers) will know how you feel.

At least part of the hard feelings stem from the lack of station representation on the VSC (Vanderbilt Student Communications) board that will make the determination:

Pete Wilson: It is true that it is the VSC Board (3 faculty members and 5 students) that will make the decision, not Chris Carroll. As I understand it, though, four of the students are current or former Hustler (the Vanderbilt student newspaper) staffers, and the fifth is actually related to Chris Carroll. (I get this information, and much of the following, from a letter written to Chancellor Zeppos by a group of WRVU alumni and posted online.) The Hustler, which costs a lot of money to publish and has apparently seen sinking ad revenues, can legitimately be seen as in competition with WRVU — the reason for selling the station is said to be to create an endowment to help fund the Hustler and other student publications. That certainly suggests the possibility of bias on the Board (though I have no knowledge that there really is such bias. At the very least I believe there is a conflict of interest). No one affiliated with WRVU is on the Board, or was notified when the Board began discussing the idea of selling WRVU last spring (station staff were not informed until September). At one time — the alumni letter estimates about ten years ago — each of the major VSC divisions was directly represented on the Board, so this shutting-out of the WRVU student staff could not have happened. The change abolishing direct representation from all the major divisions appears to have been made during Carroll’s tenure as student media advisor, which began in 1996, though the writers of the alumni letter were unable to pin down a date or tell about the exact circumstances of the change. Assuming the truth of all I’ve said, which I mostly got secondhand, it appears to me that several developments have converged to make it easier for the VSC Board to convert WRVU into cash. Whether this was planned or accidental I cannot determine beyond the shadow of a doubt.

Sharon Vegas Selby: I have no doubt that it is a VERY complex plan Pete . . . a plan that was begun 14 years ago & has developed oh-so-slowly until they were ready to make the kill. Great work again “Best of Nashville” Pete . . . Only one point can be debated — the relationship of Chris Carroll to Phil Carroll. Turns out that was a rumor handed to us by the VSC . . . likely as a means to make us look stupid. Meryem Dede, either you are coming to this debate too late or WAY to early. The VSC has been discussing the sale for over a year now with no input from WRVU. They can’t be trusted & they MUST be stopped.

•••••••••, who is listed as editor emeritus of The Slant, the school’s humor magazine, took issue with this, saying that any student who wanted to be a part of the VSC board could, that all of the journalists were one big happy family.

Pete Wilson: That the Board discussed selling WRVU months before the idea was announced to others, coming in fact to a decision to offer the station for sale, and that nobody on the Board tipped off WRVU, suggests to me that VSC camaraderie has its limits. As a student publications person from way back (Hustler and Versus, early ’80s), I was rather surprised to learn that had happened. It is true, of course, that the decision to offer the station for sale did not mean that the station was gone — that will require another decision which may never be made. I hope that you are right when you say that “one publication would [not] try to sabotage another,” but just saying it doesn’t make it so. Of course, we haven’t really clarified what “sabotage” means. Personally, I think leaving WRVU in the dark about VSC’s deliberations for half a year or more does count as sabotage, whether done with malign intentions or not. I don’t imagine any of the Board students actually meant ill to the station in doing this. Nevertheless, it happened. Similar things should not happen in the future and I have faith that they will not.

The kicker comes at the end of the “discussion”:

Justin Walsh: As the primary author of both letters posted to the WordPress site, I’d just like to be clear about two things: First, we were told by VSC people that Phil Carroll was Chris Carroll’s nephew. As alumni, we are not present at Vanderbilt and accepted this information at face value. Lesson learned. I have both retracted that specific assertion and apologized to Chris for accusing him of having a familial conflict of interest. He never responded to that apology, and reportedly laughed when it was brought up to him by Mikil Taylor.

Second, those of us who were involved in VSC due to our executive positions at WRVU — even not so very long ago (i.e., 1990s and early 2000s) — remember a very different situation. Each media organization was responsible for its own budget and also supplied representatives to the VSC Board. As Vegas notes, we do not know why changes were made to a system that worked perfectly well AND guaranteed student control of their own media, but now there are no individual budgets nor does every organization have VSC representation. On top of this, there are now 7 paid VSC staff members when there used to be 1. The budget has grown because of these new salaries and now revenues are shrinking.

What this means is helicopter parenting, reduced student involvement in the aspects of media organizations that are really important, and a VSC Board prepared to sell the radio station’s license, without a single member of the board representing the station. The worst part is that even the Board’s reasoning is faulty: VSC Media Hall of Fame inductee Don Benson seems to think the license is an asset that will only continue to appreciate. VSC will sell at the bottom of the market.

VU has the right to step in and change things on two counts: they supply 60% of VSC’s funding, and the Chancellor has the right to approve or disapprove changes to the VSC bylaws. Will they live up to that responsibility? Chancellor Zeppos has also not responded to our letter to him.

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