Sunday, May 24, 2009

Inside Scoop on KAUR's Decision to Drop FM

Thank goodness for passionate bloggers. A piece in the Madville Times just turned me on to a lengthy investigation into the recent decision by Augustana College to drop their college radio station's FM signal (which has a broadcast range of 60 miles!).

On Rant-a-Bit, Scott Hudson wrote an extensive article this week called "Augie's Bonehead Decision Regarding KAUR" that goes into detail about why the college in South Dakota is giving up on FM at KAUR. He writes:

"I can’t help but be disappointed, though, as the station ranks right up with Budget Tapes and Records and Ernie November as my main sources to discover new music in the 80’s and 90’s. Sure, I undoubtedly would have eventually discovered the Clash, R.E.M., Replacements, Cure, Joy Division, Lloyd Cole, Young Fresh Fellows, Camper Van Beethoven, and tons of other bands, but it was quite a treat to share these discoveries with listeners in my 18-year tenure as DJ and music director (84-85). It wasn’t just the music that made that old studio in Old Main (and later in one of the dorms) so special. It was the people. Over the years I met so many great people, many of whom I’m still in contact today (including the beautiful and talented Goddess)."

In his article, he includes portions of an interview with KAUR's General Manager, outlining the rationale given by the Dean of Augustana College for dropping FM. According to the interview, the main reasons that the school gave for dropping FM were:

1. Lack of student awareness/listeners (based on a student survey) and the feeling that more would listen if the station were online
2. Low student participation in station
3. Lack of radio curriculum at the school
4. The school's interest in using the space being taken up by the station
5. Fears about potential FCC violations and huge fines
6. Outside interest in the station by religious groups and public radio groups (Minnesota Public Radio and the Catholic Diocese have already shown interest)

Without even seeing this interview, I'd guessed that the school must have had financial motivations for this move. In fact, I'm sure that the lure of easy money is the main reason for shutting down FM.

As in similar instances at other stations, there is no consideration given for the broader impact that the station has on the community at large. My guess is that this loss of an independent FM station in South Dakota will have a huge impact on the local airwaves. Many college stations have low student involvement and low student listenership. Many are not housed within a specific radio curriculum. But, as this article points out, what students learn in college radio is much more expansive than just learning to be a professional DJ. As KAUR GM Tom Prochazka states in his interview with Scott Hudson:

"The educational value we do place on the station’s use is that of experience: student staff get to experience real-life managerial skills in dealing with student DJs, with DJs from the Sioux Falls community, with the administration, with the FCC, with community requests, and with community complaints...KAUR focuses on the education of the student DJs who learn how to operate a show, how to read live copy on the air, and how to better communicate when there is no script or prepared speech.

This is a part of the college’s 'liberal arts' education and tradition that will be lost without KAUR at Augustana; students may learn how to memorize a speech for class but will no longer have the chance to ad-lib live copy when moving from a concert promotion to a legal i.d. to the discussion topic at hand.

You can stay on top of the latest news with the situation at KAUR on their website. Questions and letters of support can be sent to (ATTN: OPINION in subject) or to KAUR FM, 2001 S Summit Ave, Sioux Falls, SD 57197.