TRANSPARENCY TUESDAY: Get dialed into what’s behind the sale of your college radio station

From Boise to Sioux Falls, student-run college radio stations are going on the auction block, a casualty of tight campus budgets that at times is rationalized by reference to declining listenership and the availability of online-only broadcasting alternatives.

If your college radio station gets sold without advance warning — especially if you are at a state institution that must obey public-records laws — then it’s time to go into document-gathering mode.

First, find out whether your state has a law governing colleges and universities that requires competitive bidding before valuable state assets, such as the license and equipment of a radio station, are sold. Many states do. (Your state may refer to this as a “surplus property disposition” law.)

Then, ask to see the file of bid submissions and any information about how the availability of the station was advertised; if the answer is “it wasn’t” and only one bid was received, deeper questions need to be asked. (Even at a private institution, the school may be bound by its own regulations to solicit bids to make sure that the college gets the best price. If those rules weren’t followed in selling the radio station, then the sale might be open to challenge — or at least, someone should be answerable for the mistake.)

Second, find out whether your college hired a “broker” to locate prospective buyers, and what fee the broker charged. At a public institution, the contract with the broker and the amount of fees paid should be readily available through an open-records request. Any correspondence between college officials and the broker — which can tell you just how long that sale was being discussed behind closed doors — should be public record, too.

And third, consider hitting your institution’s Board of Regents or Board of Trustees with a records request letter to find out what information has been shared with higher-ups. If the license is held by the college, then transfer of it may require a vote of your college governing board, and correspondence between the board members and university employees should be obtainable.

As a postscript, the loss of independent over-the-air student voices will be highlighted Oct. 11 during a nationwide “College Radio Day designed to raise public awareness about what is lost when college stations get snapped up by corporate owners who may have less interest in providing diverse programming and student training opportunities.