College radio stations serve as a voice for both students and the local community in which they’re located. A college radio station can provide local news, public affairs and information, a presence in community events, as well as music that is not getting airplay on commercial radio, as well as local music that is specific to the area. Recently, there has been an increase in the sales of college radio station properties to outside broadcasters interested in syndicating programming, like National Public Radio. This recent development has many students and supporters of college radio in local communities upset.
In these hard financial times, many colleges have been using the sale of their educational frequencies as a revenue generating opportunity. Oftentimes, these frequencies are worth millions of dollars to those who want to buy them. One of the main problems though, is that many colleges recognize the dollar value of their station, but not their value to the campus and surrounding community, leaving a void for both students who want experience at a broadcast station and the local community that relies on the not-for-profit voice the station provides. University and college administrators making these decisions are unaware of the possibilities of terrestrial radio and when they are told that radio is dying, they are even more willing to sell the license, especially if it will garner millions in unexpected revenue for the college or university.
On one side, there are critics who say the sales make good financial sense for colleges and universities to sell, and there are many students who will benefit from the exchange by providing the institution with needed funds that won’t cost students anything to provide. Because of the struggling economy, many university and college budgets are under pressure and tougher decisions have to be made. Such a decision may be between selling the campus radio station, increasing fees for students or laying off employees.
On the other side are people that are close to the college station and have felt its impact and sense of community, not to mention the countless students who have received on-air and management training through college radio and its often all volunteer staff. It’s true that a college-run station can be a powerful forum for ideas which is essential to student and community life. Radio can create a voice for students and the community through its many on-air programming opportunities.
There have been several movements this year to protest this issue. Now, the National Association of Collegiate Broadcasters is supporting College Radio Day on October 11th this year. The aim is to gain greater awareness about the issue and encourage people who do not normally listen to college radio to do so on this day, and encourage listenership throughout the year. The movement might gain awareness of the role of college radio on the broadcast spectrum, but until the economy improves, there is no telling if it will stop the college station buy-outs. Stay tuned…