What’s Trending: College Radio Troubles

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What’s Trending: College Radio Troubles

What’s trending in our media nation is the selling off of college radio stations.

Now with all the talk about the news industry dying (it’s not, it just seems that way, primarily because those who fear for their jobs have unlimited access to ink and microphones), it makes sense that colleges would take some type of action. But to respond like this? Sheer lunacy.

College-level media isn’t simply where students learn about journalism. It’s where they learn what democracy means, along with the rights and responsibilities inherent in the freedoms we regard as a very-American-defining thing. Isn’t that the ultimate academic experience?

Conversely, the media outlets on a college campus create a sense of community and, when college media is done well, it may even serve as a voice of reason. (If you think students can’t out-adult adults, then you’ve never sat in on a college faculty meeting or a board of trustees meeting.)

In Franklin, Ind., Franklin College is one of the most recent educational institutions to sell its radio station. It joins a list that includes Purdue University, the University of Evansville, Dartmouth College, and Iowa’s Dordt University. Less recent transactions include Vanderbilt University and the University of San Francisco. 

The academic institutions are selling the signals for the cash. No need to explain what that’s about.

In many cases, colleges are beginning internet-only radio stations, with non-journalism types proclaiming it to be a reasonable substitute for over-the-air experience.  But is it?

The web lacks the structure and regulation that built over-the-air radio, and it doesn’t provide a working understanding of why those rules exist in the first place. Serving the public interest, convenience, and necessity. Remember that? It’s what over-the-air broadcasters are there to do, and what that FCC license signifies. (We can argue which stations actually know how to do this later.)

The web also suffers from the lack of a defined community, which is something that an over-the-air signal builds upon. That factor is a great strength, especially for a college campus. 

All told, the idea that the web is a suitable substitute for this form of media seems to point to one thing: an argument riddled with false equivalencies. If you doubt that, then here’s the key element to keep in mind: In times of severe weather — which is happening with increasing frequency — you lose access to the internet fairly quickly. But over-the-air radio is resilient, which explains why you can make yourself a sandwich in the dark and then go sit out in your car to listen to the radio and stay connected to the world.

Radio’s resiliency is growing in importance as Mother Nature steps up her assault on man’s idea of progress. For colleges to overlook or disregard the need for an over-the-air signal in order to keep their communities safe is troubling. 

Reach Jaci Clement at jaci@fairmediacouncil.org

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