Vanderbilt student radio station sold, pulled off the air hours later

TENNESSEE — The airwaves of thenation’s “Music City” are operating without a 58-year-old staple.

Nashville Public Radioannounced Tuesday that it had agreed to a $3.35 million purchase of WRVU, thestudent radio station at Vanderbilt University.

The new station —which, pending final approval by the Federal Communications Commission, willpermanently replace WRVU’s eclectic offerings with classical music at FMfrequency 91.1 — began airing at midnight on Wednesday.

The announcement ofthe move was met with shock and dismay by students and supporters of the radiostation.

“The station has beenmy home at Vanderbilt,” said Scott Cardone, a rising junior and programdirector at WRVU. “This has been more than just a radio station. It’s served asa niche for a lot of good people, and now it’s gone.”

In mid-September, theBoard of Directors for Vanderbilt Student Communications, Inc. — which made thefinal decision to sell WRVU’s license — announced it would be investigating thebenefits and drawbacks of eliminating the broadcast frequency.

VSC is a nonprofitcorporation governing student media at Vanderbilt. It operates independently ofthe university.

Over the past ninemonths, the board has worked to compile data and deliberate on the future ofstudent radio at Vanderbilt.

VSC’s Director ofStudent Media Chris Carroll, who is a non-voting member of the board, explainedthat the revenue from the sale will be put toward a permanent endowment forstudent media at Vanderbilt.

“By doing this, we’represerving opportunities for student media at Vanderbilt in perpetuity,”Carroll said. “It creates a safety net in which our students will be able totake an active role in whatever form future media takes.”

Carroll is a formerboard member of the Student Press Law Center and the interim co-director ofCollege Media Advisers, a national organization for media advisers.

Chairman of the VSCBoard of Directors Mark Wollaeger said in a statement that the new arrangement will also “allow 91.1FM to preserve students’ radioexperience online and on-air via HD, remain a community asset [and] develop aninternship program at Nashville Public Radio.”

Students and alumni ofthe program, however, were not so optimistic about the move.

“Broadcasting on-airis all about the interaction with your audience,” said Sharon Scott, a 1996Vanderbilt alumna and former general manager at WRVU. “With the move to anonline format, I highly doubt that students will be interested in broadcastingwhen they can do the same thing from a podcast in their dorm room.”

In response to VSC’sannouncement in September, Scott created a nonprofit organization “WRVU Friendsand Family” which, along with the group“Save WRVU,” has lobbied the board tokeep the radio station within the Vanderbilt community.

Cardone, who sits onthe board of WRVU Friends and Family, said he has solicited about 2,000 studentsignatures on a petition in opposition to the sale.

Both Cardone and Scotthave also helped coordinate a letter-writing campaign, as well as variouscommunity rallies, in support of the radio station.

What has frustratedScott most, however, is what she called “a total lack of transparency by VSCthrough this process.”

“VSC has completelykept us in the dark and dropped this on us like a ton of bricks,” she said.“They’ve completely stonewalled the students with what they’ve beendoing.”

After the sale’spublic announcement Tuesday afternoon, the doors to the station wereimmediately locked, with automation running for the remainder of the day.

WRVU had about 50 disc jockeys lined up to broadcast during the summer, Cardone said.

“Almost all of thefeedback seems to have been against the sale, but they’ve just kept movingforward with it,” he said. “It’s like they’ve had their minds made up sincethis all began.”

For Carroll, though,the decision-making process has been “more open and public than any I’ve heardof before.”

“We wanted just theopposite of secrecy,” he said. “Anyone who asked [VSC] any questions was givenan answer. We could not have been more visible and accessible.”

Apart from a formaldiscussion with WRVU supporters at an October board meeting, Carroll said VSChas never been presented with any “legitimate” feedback.

“There were a lot ofpeople who said ‘don’t take away my radio station,’ but there weren’t any whopresented a viable solution,” he said. “The reality is that, in nine monthssince our initial announcement, there have been no attempts to communicate withthe board.”

Most attempts toadvocate for WRVU, Carroll added, have been directed toward the university’sadministration, which he said is not the legal license holder of the station.

Ron Slomowicz, a 1995Vanderbilt alumnus who has been broadcasting on WRVU for the past 20 years,disagreed with Carroll’s assessment of VSC’s transparency.

Slomowicz, thestation’s longest continuously running DJ, said “the board didn’t take anycommunity input or feedback into consideration.”

“I’ve been crying formost of yesterday and today,” he added. “This sudden and rash decision does agreat disservice to Vanderbilt and the Nashville community.”

Mallie Froehlich, arising junior and DJ at WRVU, was equally disappointed after she was unable toenter the station on Tuesday afternoon.

The students have beentold that they could be locked out until the fall semester begins, Froehlichsaid. Despite the change to an online platform, she plans to stay on as a DJnext year.

Carroll said thesudden nature of the announcement was due to FCC guidelines, which did notallow the decision to be publicized until a few weeks after it was made.

While Carroll saidaudience ratings have consistently taken a backseat to providing students withbroadcast experience, he acknowledged that recent numbers on listenership alsoplayed a role in the board’s decision.

“We found that about70 percent of listeners were 35 and older, and many were listening online fromout of state,” he said. “When people raise outcries that Nashville is losingsomething that everybody loves, the data just do not support thoseclaims.”

Scott questioned VSC’snumbers, arguing that student interest in radio broadcasting at Vanderbilt isas high as ever. This year, WRVU attracted a training class of 70 interestedDJs — one of the largest numbers in recent years.

In recent months, thestation has averaged around 30,000 listeners per week, Cardone added.

While VSC is set ongoing through with the sale, Cardone and Scott — with the help of both advocacygroups — will continue to protest the decision.

Along with fellow WRVUalumni, Scott said WRVU Friends and Family will look to pursue some form oflegal action in the near future. She added that she expects to have a 30-daypublic comment period to lobby for the future of the station, as required byFCC guidelines.

“[The FM frequency] islike a beachfront property — once it’s gone, it’ll be impossible to get back,”she said.

Though Carrollmaintained that the sale will “serve the most students for the greatest good,”Cardone feels the change will have a ripple effect throughout the Nashville community.

“For years, WRVU hasbeen a voice for those who don’t have one,” he said. “That voice has been takenaway.”

CORRECTION 6/9: A previous version of this story misstated the number of summer DJs at WRVU, due to source error. The correct number is 50.