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Don’t Sell That License

Why colleges shouldn’t bail on radio

Whenever I read a story about a college or university that has decided to sell its radio station, I slap my forehead.

I’m not the only one. Ken Freedman, general manager and program director of nonprofit WFMU in Jersey City, N.J., recently wrote a thoughtful commentary on our website laying out five reasons that educational institutions should think twice about such sales. (WFMU is not affiliated with a school but has its roots in college radio, having been owned by Upsala College until shortly before that institution closed in the 1990s.)

Paul McLane, Radio World editor in chief

“Universities that sell their radio stations often view their FM license as though they were just another piece of real estate,” Freedman wrote. “They’re not.” Don’t sell a station thinking that you can easily get another one because it probably ain’t gonna happen. Spectrum remains a valuable and scarce commodity.

“Oh, we won’t want another one,” the college might reply. But Freedman reminds such license-holders that they can’t predict the future; consider that the FM and AM bands both experienced unexpected second lives at separate times in the second half of the 20th century.

He also wrote about the importance of radio in times of crisis and disaster, especially for communities not well served by broadband internet service.

Further, “Universities that offload their radio stations usually attempt to set up a digital-only streaming studio for the students who still desire broadcast experience,” Freedman wrote. But that approach can end up being much more expensive to maintain.

And don’t discount the appeal of radio and broadcast media to younger generations (or university stakeholders including alumni). While radio’s prestige in American culture isn’t what it once was, common wisdom on that topic consistently undervalues radio’s ongoing appeal and role in American life. 

Ken Freedman’s commentary is one in a series that we’ve featured from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. 

I think we might be able to identify numerous additional good reasons for colleges to keep their stations. I welcome your thoughts at [email protected].

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