WHAT IS WRVU?
WRVU is the student founded and student operated independent radio station of Vanderbilt University serving Nashville and Middle Tennessee at 91.1 on the dial.
WHAT IS HAPPENING TO WRVU?
Vanderbilt Student Communications (VSC) has proposed the sale of the on-air license of WRVU by reaching an agreement with Nashville Public radio and reducing WRVU to an ‘online only’ radio station. The official VSC announcement can be found: HERE.
WHAT IS THE VSC?
Vanderbilt Student Communications was founded in the late 60’s (15 years after WRVU was formed) as a precautionary ‘firewall’ to protect the University from liability that might incur by statements and actions of student media. Historically VSC was an organization made up of the represented student media heads (General Manager of WRVU, Editor of campus paper, etc) to simply approve future budgets of the member organizations and to elect future student media heads. For instance, in 1996, the VSC was composed of 21 students, 3 faculty members and 1 paid Media Adviser.
The past decade has seen a large change of the VSC from an almost entirely student run operation to one with ‘at large’ student reps and faculty members all of whom may or may not have any experience with the affected student media groups. The VSC also employs six full time paid staff members, who take on many day-to-day operations, duties, and budgeting that was once all completely student administered under each media organization. The reconfigured VSC – VSC Board of Directors and full time VSC Staff – has intentionally, or unintentionally, removed responsibilities and associated learning opportunities and autonomy away from the student organizations it is charged to facilitate. One result of this recent VSC reconfiguration is a proposal, the WRVU license sale, that works entirely at the expense of one of the member student organizations it is charged to protect. The bylaws of the VSC can be found HERE.
WHAT IS THE MOTIVATION FOR VSC SELLING THE ON-AIR LICENSE?
As best as anyone can gather, VSC sees the on-air WRVU transmitter license as a depreciating asset of a dying medium (radio) that the VSC hopes to cash in to create an endowment for the VSC and remaining student media groups. Creating an endowment for the VSC is a laudable goal, but not when it is at the supreme expense of its largest, and most dynamic founding member – WRVU. Why is WRVU the only one being asked make this ultimate sacrifice to its own great detriment for the benefit of the others?
SELLING WRVU BROADCAST LICENSE WILL SOLVE ALL THAT AILS VSC, RIGHT?
By the VSC’s own account the main driver for the license sale is financial, “annual cost of running WRVU is not primarily what is at issue here, what we are talking about is revenue stream for all of VSC, not just for WRVU” and selling WRVU’s license will fund VSC in perpetuity.
In 2009 Jim Hayes, the adviser to WRVU, indicates that the annual operating budget of WRVU as $10,000/year. Wollaeger states that the annual VSC operating costs is $900,000. If WRVU’s approximate annual operating budget is $10k, then what is filling out the rest of the annual $900k? Could a $3.5million endowment plug the, by their own admission, not current, but perceived future budget crisis VSC faces? Why is this ‘crisis’ not a shared concern with all member groups contributing?
We at SaveWRVU recommend that the VSC open up its budget and see if an annual amount equivalent to the annual proceeds from an endowment can be more appropriately excised. It is worth noting, for instance, that ten years ago or so, there was only one full time paid position under VSC, the Media Adviser. All operation responsibilities were the responsibilities of each organization – that is, in the recent past, VSC and its media members were COMPLETELY student run and operated. Currently there appears to be 6 or 7 salaried positions, whose combined salaries likely veer into the $250k/year range. You hear every once in a while about non profit organizations taking donated money largely to fund extensive administrative bureaucracies with a small percentage ending up going to their stated campaign. Has the VSC become so top heavy with ‘adult’ paid staff that it needs to go to the drastic measure of feeding off one of its own to sustain its self created cash crisis?
This and the other stated reasons for justifying the license sale would be mildly tolerable if it weren’t coming from members of a top 20 institute of higher education. One could go on and on and on about the poor logic, glaring omissions, and unsubstantiated sweeping generalizations that are found in the VSC statements, but even the internet has its space limits. Please review VSC’s issued information in regard to the sale found in the ‘TIMELINE’ menu.
BUT RADIO IS NEARING EXTINCTION, RIGHT? CASH IN THE CHIPS WHILE THE ‘GETTIN’ IS GOOD’, RIGHT?
Wrong: 90% of the population listen to radio daily. ‘Old’ media like radio and tv still enjoy massive audiences and are far from extinction. It is clear that on-air radio, despite its long tenure, and the introduction of new technologies is still a vital and powerful medium. One does not need to look far to name immensely influential political and media voices emanating from radio to confirm its continued influence and vitality. Radio is not going away anytime soon. WRVU is one of the very few examples of entirely independent voices in the largely consolidated and generic field of radio. WRVU is a truly unique and vital player in radio.
WHAT IS THE ON-AIR TRANSMITTER LICENSE WORTH?
Everyone knows that you don’t sell property that you can never replace. Whatever the cash value of the transmitter license, WRVU continues to provide a real life cultural asset that engages Vanderbilt students and the greater Nashville community through the universal pleasure of music programming. One would be hard press in finding a student organization with such a rich history, cross cultural diversity, and sense of real community – all professed goals of any top tier university like Vanderbilt.
STUDENT INTEREST IN RADIO IS WANING, RIGHT?
WRVU still enjoys large student interest and has a training class of over 70 – one of its largest incoming class of interested first-time intern djs.
WHAT IS WRVU AS A STUDENT ASSET WORTH?
WRVU’s value to Vanderbilt and to its students really can not be overstated. WRVU provides a continuously running learning laboratory for 100s of students every year. No other student group or organization provides the unique and real world media experience that only WRVU provides its student body. Besides, 100s of students find engaging the airwaves fun and immensely rewarding. Just ask Vanderbilt alumni with WRVU experience and you will undoubtedly find that the time and efforts involved with WRVU as among the fondest parts of the many great experiences offered at Vanderbilt.
DOES WRVU HAVE ANY FURTHER VALUE TO THE STUDENTS?
Radio station WRVU offers Vanderbilt students unique educational opportunities in FCC broadcasting, station programming, public relations, and equipment/transmitter maintenance. Although Vanderbilt does not offer an official Degree in Radio Communications, the students who work at WRVU leave the University well-equipped for careers in broadcast media. Many WRVU alumni have gone on to become leaders in all areas of broadcast media. Others have gone onto to become local and national broadcasting personalities. Many others now work behind the scenes in commercial and community radio.
CAN’T WRVU TRANSITION SUCCESSFULLY TO ONLINE ONLY?
For starters, WRVU was the first Vanderbilt student media organization to have a significant online presence. The students who run WRVU have been leaders in engaging the evolving technologies as they become available. As such, WRVU is well aware of the current state and limitations to an online only radio format. “Online only” is a euphemism for “the end of”. Very few of those involved in radio – labels, music industry leaders, musicians, and listeners – takes online only radio seriously and neither will student djs. “Online only” WRVU is quite likely THE END of WRVU. Nashville and Vanderbilt stands to lose a 57 year old institution providing countless hours of independent programming and unique voice that only WRVU on air can provide. At its best, online only radio is a massive downgrade to the WRVU radio experience – on both ends.
It is also worth noting that an online only radio station is subject to different regulatory and licensing requirements. One such drawback of online only format is streaming music stations must pay royalties for the right to play music online, which scale up as the listenership increases. Second and most significantly, streaming stations have to purchase bandwidth to deliver their streams. Popularity, therefore, is a double-edged sword. Unlike on air broadcast, each additional listener requires additional bandwidth, which in turn costs money. If listenership grows, so does the bandwidth bill. The VSC has not indicated that they have investigated what these costs would be or how they plan to cover them. Could the operating costs of an online only station actually increase the current $10k-$15k annual operating costs of the current WRVU – one with both an on-air and online presence?
DOESN’T ONLINE ONLY BROADCAST PROVIDE THE STUDENT DJS AND STAFF THE SAME EXPERIENCE?
Students staff and djs will lose the opportunity to operate a ‘live’ station subject to FCC regulations and the associated responsibilities and learning opportunities a live station affords. If WRVU were to devolve to an online only format, one that is undifferentiated from one that could be operated from any dorm room, it is clear that WRVU would lose most, if not all community and student interest and will simply cease to exist as the vibrant student run organization that is, and has been for the past 57 years. Online only? Why bother.
WHAT FEEDBACK HAS THE VSC RECEIVED IN REGARD TO WRVU LICENSE SALE?
According to information provided by the VSC to WRVU General Manager Victor E. Clark, the responses solicited and received by the VSC board have been near 100% in favor of keeping the station on the air.
What is the VSC looking for as sufficient evidence that the transmitter sale proposal as one with little merit and at too great a cost to students, at too great a cost to the Vanderbilt experience, and too great a cost to the Nashville community?
WHAT IS THE POSITION OF VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY ON THE LICENSE SALE?
Vanderbilt created the VSC in large part to limit liability. VSC, as initially intended, was simply a way for Vanderbilt to give a bit of distance from itself and the free flow of ideas and speech of the students involved with student run media. Vanderbilt seems to think that the license sale is a matter of the VSC and not a matter of the University. Vanderbilt, however, holds the purse strings to the VSC and its associated student media member groups.
Two letters have been directed to the Chancellor asking that the fate of a storied, cherished, and vital student organization be directed in a rigorous and intelligent manner that this predicament demands. The Chancellor has been made aware of what is at stake and has been asked to verify that the current VSC has the authority to unilaterally determine the fate of a student organization. No response has been given by Vanderbilt. Would Vanderbilt be so hands-off if, say, the lacrosse team and the soccer team decided to sell off Vanderbilt Football to create an endowment for itself and the remaining athletic departments?
It is certainly not unreasonable to ask that the decision that involves the benefit of some media organizations at the great expense of the others be done with transparency, rigor, and with the best interests of all students in mind. Many of us at SaveWRVU fear that this ill conceived proposal of the VSC Board is a bad case of “group think” – a poor decision adversely affecting 100s of students with sufficient momentum among its small group to be executed despite its clear lack of merit.
WHAT INPUT DOES WRVU HAVE IN THE LICENSE SALE PROCESS?
It is not exactly clear…. The VSC claims that it is the owner of the student founded WRVU and claims that it has the authority to entertain and proceed with offers of sale of WRVU’s broadcast license. The members of the current VSC Board (5 student ‘at large’ voting members + 3 faculty voting members) has little to no radio experience but at least 4 members have current or former experience in the print areas of student media – potential benefactors of the WRVU license sale. Is this a glaring conflict of interest among the presumably deciding voting members? Even with the best of interests of the VSC Board members, eyebrows from a casual observer do have cause to rise. WRVU deserves to know its own role in its own fate.
IS THE SALE A DONE DEAL?
We here at SaveWRVU believe that the the proposed idea of the sale of the transfer of the FM frequency and license is one with few merits and and no vocal adherents outside of the VSC Board, so why is it still on the table? We here at SaveWRVU want to engage students, alumni, community members, faculty, and music lovers to join in making it clear that this sale proposal benefits too few at the great expense of far too many. Please stay tuned here for updates and how you can make your voice heard.
HOW CAN I HELP?
Glad you asked! There are lots of things you can do. Click on the the ‘HOW I CAN HELP’ menu above.
DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION YOU WANT ANSWERING?
Please post your question in the comments section and SaveWRVU will get it answered and added to the FAQ!