WRVU Sale Creates Static

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old-radioEmotions are running high this week following the sale of WRVU to Nashville Public Radio. On the one hand, fans of college radio are mourning the loss of another student broadcast channel on the FM dial.  On the other, Nashville Public Radio is hopeful that two signals –one news, one classical, is the ideal combination.

WRVU is the latest domino to fall in a string of universities selling their college radio stations—Rice University in Houston, University of San Francisco, and Trevecca in Nashville have all sold in the last year, as many colleges turn to online and HD broadcasts. WRVU was born as a pirate radio station in a student’s dorm room sixty years ago, broadcasting big band and country music. Over the years, it became a legitimate, student-run service, and the one place where you never knew what you might hear, from old blues to trance music to some deejay’s favorite 70s song.

Deejay: Oh ho ho! We have liftoff.

(Music: If I Can’t Have You)

DJ Ron: It’s the end of an era.

Ron Slomowicz, known to fans as DJ Ron, was a Saturday afternoon fixture on WRVU. He’s been spinning dance music and hosting a gay-and-lesbian talk show called Out of the Closet on 91.1 for nearly 20 years. There is nothing else like his show anywhere on the dial in Nashville.

DJ Ron: And I really think people in Nashville are gonna miss WRVU. And yeah, it wasn’t always the best music, it wasn’t always the best DJs. I cringed when I listened sometimes. But that’s the joy of college radio. And you just don’t get that anywhere else.

For months, students, alumni, and longtime fans rallied to the “Save WRVU” movement, spurring lots of Facebook and Twitter traffic and a string of fundraisers. Since the sales announcement, online anger has ramped up, with some aimed at WPLN for usurping a beloved radio station and more directed at Vanderbilt Student Communications, the faculty-student group that oversees student media on campus and made the decision to sell.

Wollaeger: I understand people being um, feeling really a sense of loss and sadness. I understand that completely.

English professor Mark Wollaeger chairs the VSC board. He says shedding the license was a tough decision. But with ad revenues falling in the student newspaper, and the market value of radio stations declining, he says it’s time for Vanderbilt to adapt to a changing media landscape.

Wollaeger: Frankly, very few students listen to the radio over the air. They listen online.

In purchasing WRVU, Nashville Public Radio now has two stations, one dedicated to news, one to classical music. It’s kind of a move in reverse. In the last few years more than a dozen public radio stations, including WPLN, changed their daytime music formats to all news. It was a bid to draw more financial support.  Now stations in places like New York and Boston are making a move back towards classical by adding another frequency. WPLN station manager Rob Gordon says that’s the ideal combination. He and the WPLN board have been watching other stations make this move.

Gordon: Vermont is another good example. Because they took off the classical music a few years ago. They had to buy new stations, but gradually the Vermont Public Radio now has a statewide news and a statewide classical music service. And they are just far more successful than they were prior to that.


Gordon says that’s the expectation in Nashville—that its news and music channels will be self-sustaining. He says WPLN can’t just write a 3.3 million dollar check to purchase WRVU. The station’s making a down-payment and planning a capital campaign to pay off the balance in the next eighteen months. During that time WPLN will apply for an FCC license transfer. The group WRVU Friends and Family says it’s not a done deal. It plans to challenge the transfer.

Deejay: Oh, well. Let’s listen to some music.

(Music: “On the Radio,” by Donna Summer)

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