Friday, September 17, 2010

Vanderbilt Student Radio Station WRVU May Lose Its FM Signal

Oh man. The bad news about college radio just keeps coming. Today I got word that Vanderbilt University radio station WRVU may be in danger of losing its 10,000 watt FM terrestrial signal. This is even more disappointing to me personally since WRVU was the most recent stop on my Spinning Indie 50 State Tour of college radio stations

In a statement on its website, Vanderbilt Student Communications (VSC) announced:

"In response to changing student habits and evolving economic challenges, Vanderbilt Student Communications Inc. is exploring the migration of radio station WRVU to exclusively online programming and the sale of its broadcast license. If the license were to be sold, the proceeds would be used to create an endowment to support innovative student media experiences, facilities and operations at Vanderbilt in perpetuity...'Our surveys indicate that each year fewer Vanderbilt students are listening to over-the-air radio,' [Vanderbilt Student Communications Board Chair Mark] Wollaeger said."

The owner of WRVU is the non-profit Vanderbilt Student Communications, which oversees all student media at Vanderbilt, including several publications, the yearbook, TV and radio stations, and the student newspaper. They haven't made any decisions yet and are actively seeking out comments about the proposed sale. You can use their electronic comment form online or send snail mail letters to the Board.

I'm saddened to see the same language being used by the VSC board as we've seen in the rhetoric being used by those in favor of selling off the Rice University radio station KTRU. In both instances they claim that online listenership is the wave of the future and that terrestrial radio is increasingly irrelevant. This argument is short-sighted in that it ignores the many community members and students who listen to the station over FM. In the quote above from the VSC Board Chair, there's a fixation on WRVU's student listeners, who are said to be less and less likely to listen terrestrially. I would imagine that the WRVU audience is much broader than the community of Vanderbilt students and that many of those listeners would be dismayed to have their station go online-only.

However, in VSC's list of Frequency Asked Questions, it's clear that student involvement at the station is also a big concern. Here's an excerpt from their FAQs:

Why is VSC exploring this sale?

Data indicates that fewer Vanderbilt students are listening to broadcast radio, and on average there has been declining interest among students in recent years to volunteer as DJs. Student staffs with other VSC traditional media outlets have been among the most innovative and progressive nationally in transitioning to new media models. VSC's responsibility to students obliges it to explore how WRVU could be transformed to secure opportunities well into the future.

From my interview with WRVU's Station Manager a few months back, it was clear that there has been concern about student involvement at the station and that was part of the reason why they enacted new rules that limited the number of non-student DJs at WRVU.

If they do sell off their 10,000 watt FM signal (wow...I bet they are salivating over how much they can get for that from eager buyers in the public and religious radio realm), proceeds will be used for all student media groups at Vanderbilt.

I'd encourage you to write in to the Board to explain why you think terrestrial radio is still important and relevant for college radio. This case is a bit different in that the VSC Board of Directors contains some Vanderbilt students and the students actually maintain the majority voting interest on the board. VSC points on on their website that, "This exploration process was authorized by students."

Since this news just came out, there isn't much in the way of an organized campaign in place by WRVU staff or listeners beyond a post on their website and a Save WRVU Facebook page. Hopefully they will learn from the experiences of other beleagered college radio stations who have put up the good fight to keep broadcasting the way they want.

Here are some recent examples:

Save KTRU (Still fighting the proposed sale of the Rice University station's FM signal to a public radio station-owning university)

The Resistance against the sale of 89.1 WNAZ (Facebook group protesting the proposed sale of the Trevecca Nazarene University student radio station)

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