Divided We Fall

Sharon Vegas Selby, who is leading the fight in Music City to convince Vanderbilt to hang on to radio station WRVU, posted this letter from one of the station alumni about the sale of KUSF in San Francisco, an eloquent testament to the move afoot to combine forces in college radio against the major consolidators in noncomm radio:

Sharon Scott, WRVU Alumni Association
Submitted: 02.25.11

Ms. Marlene H. Dortch, Secretary
Federal Communications Commission
445 Twelfth Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554

Dear Ms. Dortch & Commissioners,

I am writing in opposition of the assignment of the license for 90.3 FM from the University of San Francisco to University of Southern California.

I am a former DJ and General Manager of radio station WRVU 91.1 FM Nashville, “The Student Voice of Vanderbilt University.” Despite the many exceptional opportunities provided by my alma mater, managing a federally licensed radio station was the single-most educational portion of my experience at Vanderbilt.

It is my belief that student-run radio stations, unconstrained by financial, political, or religious demands, are the very core of a liberated society. Just as Democracy depends upon free speech, free speech depends on open avenues of communication.

For the sake of the students who have built and maintained KUSF for over 30 years, the people of San Francisco who benefit from the quality local programming this station has consistently provided, and the citizens of the United States whose very freedom depends on accessible public media, I ask you to deny the transfer of the WUSF license.

Further, as an alumnus of another FM college station that is currently in jeopardy, I ask you to consider new FCC legislation that will protect the local radio legacies that have been built by America’s students through many generations of hard work. It is my hope that the frequencies currently owned by colleges across the United States could be specifically re-designated for local educational broadcasting. Religious programming and the simulcast of distant non-commercial outlets simply is not the same. It is hard for college stations to compete with the financial resourses of these national conglomerates.

If the current trend continues, college radio is facing certain extinction.

In the name of our forefathers and the institutions of Free Speech they compel us to defend, I urge you to use your power as an FCC Commissioner to bring this crisis on America’s campuses to an end.

Submitted by:
Sharon M. Scott, author
Louisville, Kentucky


Duquesne Double-Cross

This post on pittsburghcitypaper.ws outlined some of the details of the move by Duquesne U. to divest itself of its radio station, WDUQ, a move that’s engendered protest over the fate of jazz programming and the very employees that have made the station the success that it is. As the article notes, “December rankings released by Arbitron, a media research firm, show that WDUQ leads its public-radio counterparts, WQED-FM and WYEP, in listeners.”

The article, entitled “Mugged: The deal for WDUQ could leave employees and jazz fans feeling robbed, ” by Chris Young, reveals the duplicitous role played by perennial co-conspirator Public Radio Capital. Originally brought in by a local group seeking to buy the station — Pittsburgh Public Media — PRC subsequently turned coat and conspired with WYEP, in cahoots, apparently, with some local moneyed interests:

[I]n early May, the Heinz Endowments and the Pittsburgh Foundation had purchased a 60-day option on the station, freezing the bidding process so they could determine the best use of the station. And PRC terminated the contract soon after.

In a June 2 letter to PPM, PRC managing director Marc Hand wrote, “PRC must be able to work with the local foundations and public broadcasters outside the confines” of its existing agreement.

“[T]he only viable strategy for acquiring WDUQ is to work with Pittsburgh’s foundation community,” Hand added.

News that PRC was involved with other bidders, however, came as a surprise to WDUQ staff, which learned of it only at the Jan. 14 announcement. That’s when they discovered PRC had created a new operating arm, Public Media Company, that teamed with WYEP to purchase their station.

In fact, PPM had offered $6.5 million for the station, as opposed to the $6 million selling price, but was turned down by the university. “PRC managing director Marc Hand wrote, ‘PRC must be able to work with the local foundations and public broadcasters outside the confines’ of its existing agreement.” Not surprisingly, current staff members remain mum on the situation, with their job prospects up in the air, the management squeeze in operation at all radio stations.

WDUQ’s staff of 50 — 21 of whom are full time — have not been promised employment once the station is sold. Current staffers were wary of speaking on the record for fear of jeopardizing job prospects. But sources within the station say PRC’s move is widely perceived as a betrayal.

Joe Kelly is not a WDUQ employee, but as chair of PPM he declined to speak with City Paper for this story. In a prepared statement, however, Kelly notes that “we are proud of the fact that PPM operated in a very open and transparent way. . . . We wish the best for WYEP and its partners, and we hope that they recognize and see the value of the talented and dedicated staff of the existing 90.5 FM.”

Technically, Public Media Company is an independent entity. Susan Harmon, a PRC co-founder and board member, says the two organizations have “complementary and clear roles.”

“Clear” as far as she says it is, as this Public Media Company is a brand-new entity dreamed up for this deal.

But they also share three of each group’s seven board members. And some observers question the propriety of the relationship.

“How can Public Radio Capital be in the business of consulting and helping finance stations in public radio if it’s also going to have this other entity . . . in the takeover and management business?” says Michael Marcotte, a Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University who closely follows reforms at local NPR affiliates. “It seems pretty darn convenient to be the guy you call when you need help . . . and then suddenly [there is] this other self that can then take advantage of that situation.”

Indeed. And the landed gentry of Pittsburgh are all well on board with the fixation nowadays for talk-talk:

“We didn’t make any formal conclusions during the option period,” says Grant Oliphant, president and CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation. But they suspected Pittsburgh “could be a very good market for a station that was more heavily news than WDUQ is right now.” (The foundations seemed less sure about the future of jazz: At the time, Oliphant expressed uncertainty about whether jazz was “the best use of philanthropic dollars.”)

With struggling newspapers less able to do labor-intensive, in-depth stories, Oliphant says, “that void is to some extent now beginning to be filled by nonprofit journalism.”

“I don’t think there’s any question [an expanded news operation] would succeed here in Pittsburgh,” agrees Charlie Humphrey, executive director of Pittsburgh Filmmakers, who acted as a liaison for the foundations during the time. “It’s succeeding everywhere it’s being done.”

So the fate of local jazz seems none too clear at this point:

Harmon says it’s too early to say specifically what programming will be offered. “But three things are on our mind: the role of jazz, NPR and local journalism.”

Some fans suspect only the last two have any future.

“My gut feeling is that the new owner is not especially strong for jazz,” says Joe Negri, a local jazz guitarist.

Fans of the current WDUQ format say it honors Pittsburgh’s jazz history: Such greats as Earl “Fatha” Hines, Art Blakely and Lena Horne had ties here. “To not have jazz on the airwaves in a significant way is unfathomable,” says Marty Ashby, executive producer of Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild Jazz.

Ashby wonders why the owners would give up a programming niche they have cornered. “Why go to more journalism and more talk when there are 15 other stations that have a lot of talk? It seems like a bad business move.”

Pittsburgh has two daily newspapers — unusual in a city this size. Additionally, there are three commercial-TV news operations, two commercial news-radio stations, and a number of other outlets, including City Paper.

And journalism isn’t cheap. Robert Bellamy, a journalism professor at Duquesne University, says news operations are costly to run — and their stories can upset funders.

“The obvious default for so many stations is to run a jukebox,” Bellamy says.

And whether that jukebox plays canned music or news all depends on the turn of the cards.

Hard Times at KUT

Jim Radio of Austin Airwaves sent along this note about the fight over funding of public radio in general and KUT-Austin in particular. It came on the heels of Larry Monroe’s announcement that his free-form “Phil Music” show and “Blue Monday” will be returning to the air — on another station:

For a second day The Daily Texan has had a story regarding non-commercial radio. Tuesday’s story focused on the possible “zeroing out” of the CPB line item from the proposed federal budget.

Needless to say, NPR and CPB stations, long used to the relatively ease of access to six, and sometimes even seven, digits of federal funds each year, are flogging the case to “save” their stations.

“Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me . . . Big Bird, Right?!”
There are arguments to be made on both sides of this issue. As a longtime advocate for public broadcasting, I would like to see federal funds continue for the type of programming that is offered on the local NPR and PBS affiliates. I note there are far worse ways that our federal government spends our taxes dollars.

What the brief, student reporter-written story didn’t mention, among other things, is that two fairly well-known Texans, Lyndon Baines Johnson and Sam Rayburn, are widely considered responsible for the creation of the CPB.  A fact that public radio stations should remember is that it was LBJ who included “public radio” in the original Congressional bill. It was originally going to be entitled the “Corporation for Public Television.”

SaveKUTAustin Committee
I served as the “Designated Radio Nerd” for the SaveKUTAustin Committee that formed spontaneously in August 2009 after the  management at KUT — station manager Stewart Vanderwilt and program director Jody Evans — dumped the beloved “Phil Music” program hosted by veteran KUT DJ Larry Monroe in addition to other brutal cuts from his hours and those of fellow DJs Paul Ray and John Aielli. Hawk Mendenhall initially lamely claimed that they “had to for budgetary reasons.”  They replaced the overnight programming of Larry and Paul with “Undercurrents,” a syndicated show that only cost $3,000 a year, hoping to no avail to improve ratings — and pledges.

But at KUT, Money’s So Tight, We Have to Build Another Brand New Building!
K/UT is currently building a new state-of-the-art broadcast facility, the Belo Center for New Media, right across the street from their current building, the Big Rusty Cube. Estimated construction cost? KUT’s portion is reportedly $11 million. The whole building is said to cost $60 million.

That’s $60,000,000!

Even during the height of the community backlash against phiring Phil Music, KUT management would not release the specific budget figures. And still won’t, hiding behind its status as part of the University of Texas. Go figures. It was, however, learned that the top five of the KUT management scrum, pulled down a combined $500,000+ in salaries and benefits (Director Vanderwilt, $146,500; Assoc. Director Mendenhall, $112,500; Assist. Director Sylvia Ponce-Carson, $97,000; and LA imports, husband-and-wife team Sr. Producer David Brown, $84,000, and Mgr. Emily Donahue, $81,100). In contrast, the DJs are hourly employees.

To add insult to injury, reports suggest that the new building is to house an “audio vault,” a computerized system containing the songs that DJs must play from — the final blow to free-form radio at KUT.

So will KUT, one of the major players in public radio and thereby entitled to more “consideration” from the CPB, suffer from Congressional action to defund public radio? “Funding from the CPB makes up about 7 percent of KUT’s operating budget, or roughly $500,000 a year,” said KUT director Stewart Vanderwilt . . .” Correct me if my numbers are wrong, but that would put KUT’s budget at a staggering $7.1 million! I’m thinking that the reduction or loss of CPB funds for KUT would be as much of a “threat” as swiping the penny tray on the counter from the local Wal-Mart.

How much were they paying Phil Music?

So does Jim think a CPB emasculation is imminent? “The CPB will, sadly, either be gutted outright, with its entrails splattered across Sesame Street, or have its budget reduced by more than half.” And, “KUT’s overall budget for the year following the end of CPB funding will not decrease significantly.”

Hats Off to Larry

The big news this week in Austin radio is the return to the airwaves of DJ Larry Monroe — “hell no” not on “public” radio station KUT, but on KDRP out of Dripping Springs, which is now virtually a suburb of the capital city. Larry will be reconstituting the shows he popularized before the station sought least-common-denominator status and eviscerated the shows of many of its longtime money-making DJs. “Phil Music” starts up March 3rd, from 7 – 10 PM, and “Blue Monday” signs on March 7th, from 7 – 10 PM.

KDRP is an LPFM (low-power FM) channel broadcasting in the Texas Hill Country west of Austin, as noted on the website, here:

Its official, Larry Monroe fills in for Phil Music beginning March 3 at 7pm on 103.1 in Dripping Springs and 100.1 for Johnson City and the Texas Hill Country. Blue Monday’s begin March 7 at 7pm.  For the many fans of Larry Monroe, welcome to KDRP. We might be a little smaller than you are accustomed to but we have grown our coverage area from 1200 to over 22,000 households in the Texas Hill Country in the last 18 months. We have plans to add a new FM signal covering at least the Western portion of Austin in the next few months. We’re a new home to many radio legends like Sammy Allred and others. Help us grow our grassroots radio station! We need more programming folks like Larry, individual members, and underwriters too. It just takes time and a little more money every month, but we are blessed to have good folks like Larry Monroe on KDRP Radio. It’s going to be a fun ride!!!

Note too that apps are available on the website for streaming to your PC, Mac, iPhone/Pad/Touch, or Blackberry, making it accessible area-wide.

The Air War in Nashville

In Nashville, the Music City, Vanderbilt students and supporters of WRVU are fighting to hang on to their radio station. Station slayer Chris Carroll promulgated a list of open-ended questions justifying his attempts to jettison the station — the standard mealy-mouthed bloviation of university suits — and following are answers from Vandy alumni:

Vanderbilt Student Communications Q&A
The following list of nine open-ended questions was sent by VSC Director of Student Media Chris Carroll, in response to a request for information by WRVU General Manager Victor Clarke regarding the VSC Board’s concerns and interest in a sale of the WRVU broadcast license. We offer the following responses to the VSC’s questions below. For media inquiries, see http://www.savewrvu.com for more information, or write to Justin Walsh (justin.st.p.walsh@gmail.com).

1. Is there an immediate alternative to fund an endowment? Are there likely alumni or other donors willing to match or substantially match the sale offer?

In the initial announcement regarding the possibility of a sale (www.vandymedia.org/wrvu/), Vanderbilt Student Communications (VSC) stated that the goal behind this move was to protect other student media by creating “an endowment to support innovative student media experiences, facilities and operations at Vanderbilt University in perpetuity.” Although we reject the notion that a license sale could achieve that goal, we would like to see funding possibilities for WRVU explored further. We believe that the possibilities for funding are various, and include:

  • underwriting campaigns, such as those heard on NPR
  • benefit concerts
  • membership drives, again following the NPR model
  • alumni donations

In fact, there are existing precedents at WRVU for the first two suggestions, where a student underwriting director position already exists and benefit concerts have raised several thousand dollars each year for the station.

WRVU, unlike its print media counterparts, cannot earn a large advertising income due to the nature of its broadcast license. This fact, however, is offset by its seemingly manageable cost. According to a 2009 letter to the U.S. Copyright Royalty Board by VSC Assistant Director Jim Hayes, “WRVU has an annual operating budget of $10,000.” In his opening statement at a meeting with WRVU staff and DJs, VSC Chair Mark Wollaeger cited a cost of $15,000 (plus shared expenses associated with the VSC’s rental space in the Sarratt Student Center). Whatever the case, keeping WRVU on the air requires only a small fraction of VSC’s total $900,000 annual operating budget. As a form of community service, Vanderbilt radio is a low-cost, high-return asset that has fulfilled its non-profit commitment to the FCC since receiving its license in 1953 — all while educating hundreds, if not thousands, of Vanderbilt students.

WRVU is certainly willing and able to create an endowment if necessary to sustain its annual operation costs. Doesn’t it make sense that the other VSC members be similarly obligated? These other VSC publications and media include The Vanderbilt Hustler newspaper, The Commodore yearbook, The Political Review, The Slant, The Torch, ORBIS, VTV, InsideVandy, The Talented Tenth, and the annual Vanderbilt Review. The majority of these publications have existed for fewer than 10 to 15 years. It simply does not make sense to poach an anchor VSC member, WRVU, to sustain publications “in perpetuity” which have yet to prove that they can exist and operate successfully at a fraction of WRVU’s lifespan.

What is the endowment going to be used for? As can be seen in the VSC board’s initial statement, they have not been specific in their response to this question. We at SaveWRVU suspect that the annual operating costs of any or all of the VSC media organizations is not the issue, but rather the bloat associated with the growing paid VSC staff. We fear that an endowment created by the WRVU license sale would not assist with the operating costs of any of its member media organizations but, instead, will become a means of sustaining an ever-increasing professional (i.e., non-student) VSC staff.

For over 30 years there was only one full-time paid staff member of Vanderbilt Student Communications — a journalistic advisor. The organization, which was explicitly created to protect editorial freedom of speech for students from the meddling of the Vanderbilt University administration, was likewise governed by a board of 21 students for decades. Most of these student positions were held by the heads of student media. WRVU had three Board positions, more than any other organization (perhaps due to the size of its staff). Even as recently as a decade ago, every media organization was represented on the board. Recently, however, the student component of the board was reduced to four voting members. Today, none of these “at-large” members have any current connection to WRVU; they are each involved with one of the VSC publications that would benefit from the proposed sale, though. Meanwhile, the number of full-time professional staff members has increased to from one to seven.

Could a license sale actually fund an endowment? We consider this prospect extremely unlikely. The stated upper range for a sale is around $5 million. If the entirety of this high number were placed in trust as an endowment, only the interest/earnings generated by it would be available for use by VSC — not the $5 million itself. The board has not presented any kind of plan detailing the structure of a putative endowment, its investment strategy, imagined returns, or its management. Assuming a (purely arbitrary, but probably representative) 5% return on that top-end estimate of the license’s value, however, the income would equal $250,000 a year. VSC’s current budget is already almost four times greater than that and it will rise as costs, especially cost-of-living raises for staff, rise. The annual outlay of VSC on WRVU’s behalf, on the other hand, is minimal — less than or equal to the salary of just one of the seven current full-time staff members.

2. Is the revenue potential presented by retaining the broadcast license equal to or greater than the offer? Are there changes that could be made to WRVU programming or management that would result in substantial underwriting income? What would be the probability of success of such an effort?

It isn’t clear exactly what the Board means here by “revenue potential.” WRVU is a “not-for-profit radio station.” By federal law, which is enforced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the purpose of WRVU is to serve the community through quality programming, not to generate income. Although station underwriting is allowed, direct advertising sales are not. WRVU underwriting programs that have supported the station since the 1960s have not been utilized under the current VSC management, despite the fact that one new VSC professional staff position (Advertising Director) was created specifically for such a purpose at a current annual salary of approximately $70,000.

From underwriting campaigns to benefit concerts to membership drives, there are many funding possibilities for radio station WRVU that have not yet been explored. We believe that at least some of these possibilities have great potential.

3. Is there strong evidence to suggest that delaying a sale would result in a larger offer at a later date?

As already noted, we reject (and federal law essentially prohibits) consideration of WRVU as a purely economic asset. It is, instead, fundamentally an educational opportunity.

However, anecdotal evidence suggests that 2011 is not a wise time to be selling radio frequencies, especially non-profit frequencies below 92 MHz. The reason for this has nothing to do with the viability of broadcast radio, even for specialized stations like WRVU. Don Benson, WRVU alumnus and 2010 inductee in the Vanderbilt Student Media Hall of Fame (named as one of the “40 Most Powerful People in Radio” by the industry magazine Radio Ink), told former WRVU General Manager Mikil Taylor that broadcast licenses have hit an all-time low in their market value, but also that they will increase in the future.

According to the 2010 Arbitron report “Radio Today: How America Listens to Radio,” 93% of the U.S. population still listens to broadcast radio daily. The dial is limited. As demand for bandwidth continues to build and the number of available frequencies declines, the value of the license for 91.1 FM will continue to increase.

Likewise, Benson and other radio experts have stated that radio frequencies can be used for other purposes such as telecommunications and high-speed Internet delivery. There is no danger that the value of an FM frequency will bottom out. Like the rare opportunity of working at a high-power FM station, the fiscal value of radio waves will only increase with the advent of new technologies.

4. Would the learning experience for students affiliated with WRVU differ substantively if the station’s programming was online-only? How can this difference be measured? If the learning experience were diminished, would that loss outweigh the opportunities presented by an endowment?

To cite Mr. Benson once again, nobody in the professional radio industry takes Internet distribution seriously. Likewise, CNN Senior Correspondent and WRVU alumnus Richard Quest has stated that “having a broadcast wavelength and frequency, not some Internet nonsense, is crucial to real broadcasting in the true sense of that word.”

WRVU already reaches an Internet audience through streaming technology on wrvu.org and through its mobile device applications. The most significant difference with online-only distribution, from the educational perspective of student DJs, would be the removal of any regulation by the FCC. It may sound strange to say that restriction is a good thing, but as alumni, we can state unequivocally that there are actually a number of positives to be found in being subject FCC regulation:

  • Students learn how to operate a real radio station — experience that can be invaluable in any number of future media endeavors (there are many alumni, in the Nashville area as well as nationwide, who owe their start in radio or other media to WRVU).
  • The responsibility to conform to regulations requires a professional attitude to be maintained during a show.
  • Restrictions, in some sense, make art more interesting — that is to say that rules force one to manage more carefully and to develop innovative solutions for achieving a goal, which is every bit as much a part of the educational experience as learning how to do the emergency broadcast warning in the event of a nuclear attack (yep, you get that training as part of FCC licensure).

If WRVU went “online only,” the bandwidth necessary to accommodate WRVU’s 30,000 weekly listeners — assuming they chose to tune in that way, which we doubt — would likely be more than the station’s current operating costs. It is also probable that the station would no longer receive promotional materials from record labels, forcing student DJs to purchase music for the station. In addition, without the FCC “non-profit” designation, it is likely that WRVU would be required to pay royalties on the music it plays. The VSC Board has made no indication that they have researched such “online only” expenses.

Finally, we have to ask: Isn’t the ultimate measurement about whether it’s worthwhile to join a radio station the fact that WRVU had a record number of trainees in fall 2010 and an unprecedented number of student DJ applications again this spring, even as the station’s license was under threat?

5. Would student involvement change substantively for WRVU if the station’s programming was online-only? How can this be predicted? If participation levels were diminished, would that loss outweigh the opportunities presented by an endowment?

Without the FM broadcast license, we have no doubt that the level of student involvement would shrink to zero. Why would students join an organization that has nothing to offer them? WRVU’s mission is to create a laboratory where students can learn what it means to manage a real on-air radio station. There is no such thing as a professional online-only radio station. The lack of FCC regulation would mean that there would be no difference between what a student could do in a studio, and what they could do from their dorm room. Students instinctively realize this difference already, which is why they continue to volunteer to DJ at WRVU  —a station that offers live broadcasting opportunities and professional radio experience.

The last part of the question — whether the opportunity to be a WRVU DJ is equal to the possibility of an endowment — is ultimately a rhetorical one, but we think the answer is clear. In terms of student experience and community connection, the long-term value of preserving the FM frequency far outweighs any short-term monetary gains that will come from sacrificing the license.

6. How large is WRVU’s off-campus broadcast audience? What benefits are gained for VSC and students by having this broadcast audience? How are these benefits measured? Is serving WRVU’s Middle Tennessee broadcast listeners a priority that outweighs the opportunities presented by an endowment?

Once again, a few facts about WRVU’s listenership need to be noted:

  • Mark Wollaeger, Associate Professor of English and Chair of the VSC board, told the Nashville Scene in September that the size of WRVU’s audience (on-campus or off) was not a significant factor in the Board’s decision-making process.
  • VSC has never before asked for WRVU to produce a large listening audience (on-campus or off).
  • The mission statement of WRVU makes no reference to serving an audience — only to giving students an opportunity to learn about broadcast media.

OK, leave this all aside: How many people listen to WRVU? The VSC media advisor, Chris Carroll, has been quoted in the Nashville Scene as saying that there are “300 regular listeners in the community.” However, the Arbitron weekly cumulative audiences (the number who listen at least once a week) were 26,500 in July 2010, 30,400 in August 2010, 26,800 in September 2010, and 30,200 in October 2010, averaging 28,500 unique weekly listeners over the four-month period. These are significant numbers.
(Note: Carroll later clarified that this number referred to the number of listeners during “any given quarter-hour,” which changes the meaning of the statement completely.)

Ultimately, if listenership is an important issue for the VSC Board, WRVU ought to be given an opportunity to meet that new standard. But WRVU also shouldn’t be singled out on audience as a metric for worthiness. If this criterion is important to the VSC Board, then a similar burden should be placed on all Vanderbilt media organizations and not selectively on WRVU.

So what’s the benefit of Nashville’s audience to VSC and to students? The same as it is for the larger Vanderbilt community: the goodwill that comes from a significant subset of Nashville’s population — the creative and professional core of the city, which values a non-normative media outlet and which Vanderbilt can develop to its own benefit. Other than the VU Medical Center, WRVU is Vanderbilt’s most important connection to the Nashville community. The call letters stand for “We Are Vanderbilt University,” and the station’s student staff has taken that responsibility seriously. The station has provided educational programming and locally oriented broadcasting services to Davidson County and the surrounding areas. WRVU has a long history of exposing Nashville citizens to music they simply cannot hear on any other station. From introducing local bands to celebrating international musical traditions, WRVU does what a college radio station should: It educates. Nashville is Music City, U.S.A. For 57 years, Vanderbilt radio has been a vital part of that important local heritage.

In addition to quality musical programming, the DJs of WRVU provide a minimum of two public service announcements every hour. They promote local nonprofit organizations and publicize community events.

The public response in the Nashville community has been intense and focused: DO NOT SELL WRVU’S FM LICENSE. The station provides a forum for perspectives outside the mainstream in a venue not offered by any other Nashville media outlet. Notable examples include WRVU shows 91 Out of the Closet, 91 Jumps!, The Persian Show, Delta Groove, and the Local Music Show.

7. How large is WRVU’s campus broadcast audience? How would the transition to online-only programming impact those student listeners? How might this be predicted? What level of decline, if any, would outweigh the opportunities presented by an endowment?

(For a response to the first part of the question, regarding audience size, please see our answer to question 6, above.)

It should now be clear from our previous responses that the phrase “transition to online-only programming” is simply a euphemism for ending WRVU entirely. A vital 24-hour radio station, such as WRVU is now, involves nearly 100 active DJs and staff at any given time, making it one of the very largest student-run operations on campus. KTEQ in Rapid City, SD, is a college radio station that tried the online-only format some years ago. They discovered that DJ interest dwindled considerably, and so they have now embarked on the five-year process of reapplying to the FCC to broadcast on air again. Fortunately for them, there are still available frequencies in their home market, which is not the case in a major metropolitan area like Nashville.

Is selling off WRVU 91.1 FM, a pillar of the VSC for decades, worth the value of creating an endowment that would serve only to head off a perceived future financial crisis that is apparently of VSC’s own making? The answer is an emphatic NO.

Finally, without any semblance of a plan in place for the management of an endowment, it is impossible to think that such a fund could compensate for the loss of WRVU’s broadcast license. We believe the license represents an extraordinary resource for Vanderbilt students and the Nashville community whose value far exceeds any possible monetary gain.

8. What is the intrinsic value of retaining the WRVU broadcast license as a legacy to alumni and the community? How can this be measured? Does this value outweigh the opportunities presented by an endowment?

From the outset, it is important to acknowledge that the alumni who have organized the Save WRVU campaign do not delude themselves by thinking that the station is important as an expression of their legacy. The station is only as relevant as the students who run it care to make it.

So why, in that case, are so many alumni supporting the station and trying to prevent the sale of its license? The answer is: We remember what that experience meant to us, we believe it was formative in our lives to have had those roles and those responsibilities, and we want other people to have those opportunities. Undergraduate students, not the Vanderbilt administration or VSC, built WRVU. Students laid cable in the steam tunnels, applied for an FCC license, made the switch from AM to FM, boosted the signal wattage, and did all the paperwork to make sure the whole thing stayed legal. (Those responsibilities have since largely taken over, during the past decade, by WRVU advisor Jim Hayes and VSC advisor Chris Carroll.) So this is not about legacy. Instead, it’s about the kinds of experiences one can have as a member of one of the largest, most important student organizations that exists on the Vanderbilt campus.

However, in answer to the question regarding measuring the value, we refer you to the recent 2011 U.S. News and World Report for yearly college rankings. Of the educational institutions that rank the same or higher than Vanderbilt, only the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, and Cal Tech do not have existing stations. Vanderbilt’s continued ranking as a top 25 or better school does have significant value to alumni, and based upon this list it would be reasonable to speculate that having such a facility on campus does make contribution to Vanderbilt’s competitiveness. Indeed, note that Vanderbilt gained ground over Emory University in 2010, a school similar to Vanderbilt but without a college radio station. Moreover, news reports indicate that Rice anticipates selling its station in the coming months. Having Vanderbilt advance in the standings would increase the perceived value of an alumni’s education.

9. Are there other persuasive arguments that support retaining the broadcast license that outweigh the opportunities presented by an endowment?

Yes, and they are being sent to the Chancellor, the Board of Trust, and the members of the VSC. The question is who will hear these voices, from the campus and from the community, who speak in unanimous objection to the proposed frequency sale? Who will act on their behalf?

A Plea from Pittsburgh

Frank Conrad sends along word that in Pittsburgh, Public Radio Capital is in the process of taking ownership of the city’s jazz station and asks for your support. He says: “PRC was initially brought in to the process to assist the stations management and community supporters in purchasing the license. PRC then became a predator and now is poised to hijack a very well supported community resource. We are reaching out to anyone has experience with them so that we might learn from each other how to best combat this growing cancer in public radio. Can you help.”

Their Save Our WDUQ Facebook site is now listed on the right, so climb on board.

No Time to Upgrade

Greg Smith sent along this link to Mark Ramsey’s influential blog, wherein he makes a few observations about what Apple is up to with its iPhone:

Back in December, Apple quietly submitted a patent application that altered the radio experience for its users and introduced three new elements to the iPhone:  FM, AM, and Satellite Radio — all built in.

Besides a much slicker user experience than the standard radio dial, Apple has another trick up their sleeve, according to iPadzz.net:

The radio patents are an indication that the iPhone 5 might offer a unique radio station mapping function which will let users find and select a station with the closest or strongest signal. The folks at T3 believe that Apple might integrate an FM radio receiver added to the top right corner of the device. Apple plans to change the game by displaying all the available radio stations nearby on an interactive map, with names and signal strengths displayed for each station.

The big takeaway from this?

Standard FM and AM are going into the new iPhone — not HD radio.

Satellite radio is getting equal shelf-space to terrestrial on the new iPhones.

As Mark notes:

Pandora has succeeded on iPhones not because FM or AM isn’t there — it has succeeded because it’s different from FM or AM, and that will not be changing.

If you think young folks will wake up and discover a new world of radio heretofore hidden from them, stop fooling yourself. Radio still barely targets these young folks with a limited menu of choices, and they know it. And most of them are already listening anyway when they’re not spreading their media time across a plethora of alternatives, only some of which might be described as “radio.”

Much in keeping with what Jerry Del Collliano of Inside Music Media says about the folly of consolidation in radio and the just desserts of the insanity of seeking the lowest common denominator in music. And, of course, so much for the exuberant “hints” that Apple was about to market HD radio.

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