WBRU sells FM frequency and transitions to digital media


At 11:59 p.m. on August 31st, the Brown-associated student-run radio station WBRU officially sold its frequency (95.5FM) and moved into online-only broadcasting. The station, which was founded and has broadcasted on 95.5 since 1969, faced numerous pressures over the past decade that ultimately led to the sale of their flagship frequency. To better understand the situation, the Blognonian spoke with Andie Corban, the current news director and student e-board member of WBRU.

The sale of the radio frequency was composed of two major factors: insufficient ad revenues and reduced student interest. Radio media as a whole has been declining in the past few decades in favor of television and internet-based alternatives, causing reduced listenership and, subsequently, reduced ad sales. Additionally, national radio stations like Sirius XM and iHeartRadio have yielded considerable competition for the locally-based WBRU. WBRU has been losing money since 2012 and, according to Corban, the future doesn’t seem to offer more financial opportunity in the realm of radio broadcasting.

Additionally, declining radio listenership amongst college students has led to decreased student interest in joining WBRU. To make matters worse, the aforementioned national competition has forced WBRU DJs to opt for more conventional music choices in order to seem more appealing to advertisers.

“It’s a much more professional sounding station now than it used to be. So it’s not as fun for students to work at. Also, student interest is a huge factor…our generation doesn’t listen to the radio as much. You listen to Spotify, you listen to podcasts. You don’t really turn the FM dial. The audience for radio is getting older, so our average listener became someone we didn’t really relate to, which is part of declining student interest,” Corban said.

In late April, the student membership of WBRU held a vote to allow the sale of the radio license. The vote required a 2/3 majority, and this majority was missed by one vote. This put the e-board in a position where, though the license could not be sold, there were no other viable options or alternatives for the station to avoid sinking further into debt. According to Corban, if the authorization to sell was not obtained by the beginning of the summer, WBRU would have no choice but to continue broadcasting for three months and accrue even more debt.

In this interim, Brown President Christina Paxson offered WBRU financial support in the form of a loan. While this option was considered by the students, Corban explained that it could not ultimately change the root problems facing WBRU as a radio station.  A few weeks later, the vote was held again. This time, the 2/3 majority was achieved and the station was authorized to sell its radio license.

Recently, former student DJ Tucker Hamilton has come forward claiming that this second vote was coerced by some members of the student leadership. In response to this, Corban explained that the discussions regarding the future of the station were totally open and all radio members were allowed to voice their opinions. While many student leaders were very vocal about their advocacy for the sale, this was because their experience and positions gave them a deep understanding of the situation and they saw no realistic alternatives for WBRU in the realm of radio.

Last night, WBRU officially went off the air and the 95.5FM radio frequency was taken over by WLVO, a Christian adult contemporary radio station.

In a press release, WBRU outlined its new line of programming going forward as an exclusively digital station. There are currently two 24/7 music streams up on wbru.com, with more planned in the future. A news podcast and a local music podcast are also in the works, as is a weekly newsletter. All of this material will continue to be accessible at WBRU’s website, but Corban predicts that WBRU’s new app will also go live within the next few weeks. “Every department is working on something new and something exciting, but also those new things are going to be a continuation of what we did around the FM signal. Nothing is going away, it is just on a slightly different platform.”

Image via Kelly Carey-Ewend ’19

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