The WUTS broadcast studio. Photo by Rob Mohr (C’21).
By Colton Williams
As of December 2019, WUTS, Sewanee’s student-run public radio station since 1972, is no longer on the air. This came after the University made the decision to relinquish the broadcast license for WUTS to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). WUTS will continue to stream online.
After a request for an initial article about WUTS dated February 10 to be removed, The Purple contacted Parker Oliver (C’89), associate vice president for marketing and communications; Eric Hartman, vice president for risk management and institutional effectiveness; and Lucy Singer, vice president and general counsel. The Purple received a statement from the University on February 19, reprinted here in full:
“In December, the University made the decision to relinquish the WUTS broadcast license and to continue to support the student radio station with streamed programming. WUTS currently is operated by six student staff and approximately 50 DJs, and streams music 24 hours a day with scheduled programming approximately 12 hours each day. People can listen and find the schedule here: http://wuts.sewanee.edu/.
WUTS has been both broadcasting and streaming for several years, and its audience is moving more and more to streaming. Recent surveys show that 86 percent of teens listen to music streaming services in an average week, but less than half report listening to any music on broadcast radio. (MusicWatch Q2, 2019)
The experience for the students who operate WUTS is largely the same for both broadcast and streaming. The students and their faculty advisors will continue to share a love for music and enjoy the out-of-classroom experience together.
The decision to relinquish the broadcast license was made after seeking both technical and legal expertise. Managing compliance with FCC regulations requires ongoing time and expertise that few current student organizations would be able to achieve. Noncompliance brings the risk of both financial and reputational consequences. The WUTS broadcast license was relinquished to the FCC at the end of December, and it no longer appears on the FCC website listing active broadcast stations.”
Emily Cate (C’20), the station manager for WUTS, Richard Pryor III (C’20), operations manager for WUTS, and KT Pritchard (C’22), assistant manager, all said that the compliance issues were related to the station’s public file, which are documents required by the FCC to be kept at all public radio stations.
According to Cate and Pryor, WUTS staff found out about the issues with their public file at the beginning of the academic year.
Cate emphasized that there was an atmosphere of confusion over the public file, and that WUTS staff were stunned when they heard the news that they were going off the air. The staff was informed of this decision through GroupMe.
“We’re losing our license, what happened?” Cate recalled saying. “We were like, in our own GroupMe, ‘what is going on? What is happening?’”
At this point, students were told that WUTS could possibly be fined $15,000 due to the failure to appropriately manage the public file. In January, WUTS staff had a meeting in which Hilary Dow Ward—former advisor for WUTS— and Singer were present.
“That was when they officially told us the situation,” Cate said, “and that’s when it changed from a $15,000 fine to a $100,000 fine.” These numbers reflect the possibilities of a fine. The difference in these numbers is due to the fact that a potential fine could have been larger. The issues with WUTS public file dated back a number of years.
Ward declined to comment for this article.
Ultimately, Cate said that the biggest loss is losing WUTS’s identity as a radio station.
“And it’s gone. There’s no way we can ever be 91.3 FM ever again,” she said. “… And that’s honestly heartbreaking.”
The original version of this article made mention of Chris Waldrup, who was the station engineer for WUTS. The Purple contacted a Sewanee email address for a Chris Waldrup on multiple occasions but these emails did not reach Waldrup. The original article also did not include the fact that all fines were potential, and that WUTS was never actually fined for any sort of noncompliance. The Purple sought information for this article from several sources, and much information was not offered until after the article was published.
Definitely an over-reaction for not having the public file. A simple phone call to the FCC saying the station is under new management and asking “what is the best recourse at this point?” would have matched the danger level. The FCC is more likely to issue a warning if you simply talk to them about the problem.
This is a convenient excuse for the university to jettison a radio station that is costing them money to operate, period. I operate a station, and the odds of the FCC actually inspecting any given radio station’s public file – and administering fines for issues with it – are about the same as mine are of being the first man to walk on the surface of Neptune. This is just another college/university who has decided it’s time to pull the plug on their radio station because they see radio as an antiquated communications medium, and one that costs them money to operate comparative to internet-based methodologies.
As a retired broadcast radio engineer, and a graduate of EFM (C’86), this is not great news. Opportunity lost for future students.
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