N.J. college plans to sell FM signal in online auction to generate revenue

NEW JERSEY — Citing declining revenue, officials at Camden County College tried to sell the institution’s FM signal through an online auction website last spring, but later pulled the listing when nobody placed a bid. Now, administrators plan to list it again and could transition the student-produced radio station to an online-only format.

But WDBK’s station manager and student deejays argue the online-only format would sacrifice the student radio station’s credibility and limit student deejays’ job prospects after graduation.

Christopher Shinn, a second-year student who hosts a radio show three times a week for WDBK, said it would be tougher to market the students’ programming with an online-only station, adding that FM signals are “extremely important to any radio station.”

“I’m hoping they keep it,” he said. “I’m hoping they let us do what we’re doing.”

William Thompson, the college’s vice president of institutional advancement, said the institution listed the radio station’s FM signal license on an auction site for $150,000 as a way to generate revenue. Camden County College’s budgeted revenue dropped by $2.8 million between the 2013 and 2014 fiscal years, resulting in a $1.4 million decline in operating expenses.

Thompson said the college removed the listing from the auction site in August, but the college will likely put it up again in early 2015. The radio station will continue streaming online if the college gets an offer and decides to sell the FM signal, he said.

“The learning experience would remain,” he said. “The benefit is it is a much further reach of your talent, but then the question becomes ‘why then do we still need the FM signal?’”

But WDBK Station Manager Chris Passanente, who isn’t involved with the decision to sell the license, said the FM signal validates the radio station and gives it more credibility. Passanente said the students use the FM signal to reach out to the community with shows, announcements about local events and groups. Programs streaming online don’t get the visibility that an FM signal provides, he said.

Thompson said selling the FM signal is an “exploratory issue,” but if the college decides to sell the broadcast signal, the administration would talk with the station manager and the faculty.

Tyler Will, a second-year student, deejays a show twice a week and hopes to have a radio show after college. He said he benefits from experience in both streaming and FM broadcast, but said FM is more useful.

“The FM channel is what keeps us a legitimate radio station,” he said. “Without it, we’re pretty much just another club in the school.”

Drew Jacobs, associate professor of communications at the college, said the faculty union passed a resolution in April to ask the college’s president to discuss solutions to keep the FM license, but no one in the administration responded, he said.

Although he doesn’t work for the radio station, Jacobs said the station has a noticeable effect on the college’s communications program curriculum and recruitment.

It’s important for students to be able to say “‘I worked for a licensed FM station,’” he said. “It’ll prove a lot more valuable to them in the job market than it would be just to stream.”

SPLC staff writer Anna Schiffbauer can be reached by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 127.