When I saw the cover of City's June 25, 2003 edition regarding changes at WRUR, I had a pretty good idea what the story would be about. I knew I would see references to WXXI.
I was the station manager of WRUR in 1980 when WXXI made similar, if not more radical, proposals to gain influence and control over the university's student-run FM radio station. It was what could be described as a hostile take-over attempt.
We, the students, had approached WXXI about sharing a new antenna tower that WXXI had just built atop Pinnacle Hill so that we could improve WRUR's coverage. Those initial inquiries ultimately turned into closed-door discussions with university administrators and WXXI management regarding a take-over of 'RUR's license by WXXI and the desire to migrate programming, management, and control over to the professional broadcasters at WXXI. The student leaders of 'RUR were shocked at how our inquiry had misfired and had turned into a take-over attempt by WXXI.
Dig through the 1980 archives of the UR's student newspaper The Campus Times, and you will find many articles describing the struggle that I, along with other student leaders and WRUR staffers, waged to maintain the independence of the station without the involvement and interference of professional broadcasters.
Back then --- and I would still maintain this today --- the most unique, valuable, and important aspect of WRUR was that it was student-run in its entirety. The students were responsible for all the programming, administrative, and financial decisions. When I reflect upon my four years of involvement at WRUR and my year as station manager, I feel a sense of pride and accomplishment for all that we as students achieved, by ourselves, without the use of professional broadcasters and, for that matter, without faculty advisors.
Even though we didn't have professional broadcasters involved in the operation of the station, many WRUR alums have gone onto professional careers in broadcasting. This indicates to me that you don't need the influence of professionals for those interested in broadcasting careers.
The presence of professional broadcasters at the station is overrated. WRUR is meant to be an extra-curricular activity, not a vocational training experience. Those who want broadcast careers have the option of looking for appropriate internships elsewhere.
While I wouldn't advise the current student leaders of WRUR not to consider the "pilot" referenced in the article, I think it's important to understand the slippery slope they are on and the potential impact to the station for many years to come --- years after they are long gone from the station.
Quite frankly, I was surprised that the current WRUR leadership was so receptive to the potential partnership. A decision to partner with WXXI will have an impact on future students at the UR who want to be involved in radio broadcasting as an extra-curricular activity. This decision should not be made lightly --- and certainly not because it's an easy and convenient way to fill air slots.
During my years at WRUR, the FCC altered the regulations for non-commercial stations, requiring higher levels of on-air time. Failure to maintain a 7-day-a-week, 20-hour-a-day broadcast schedule could put your license at risk. Filling air slots was and still is, a huge challenge, especially during the summer months and vacations.
Compliance with this new regulation required creative solutions. At the time, we turned to the Rochester community to find ways to increase our broadcast schedule during the times when student availability was low. The involvement of the community has blossomed over the past 20 years and has turned WRUR programming into a unique mosaic of student and community-derived musical programming.
Perhaps, ultimately, the main issue WRUR faces today is that the students leaders of WRUR are not as motivated as I and my fellow students were, to make the station work, to keep it operating as a true independent student-run enterprise. The WXXI partnership offers an easy solution to the management challenges at WRUR. The leaders of WXXI can sense this and are taking advantage of this lack of motivation to position themselves for greater involvement over time.
The license the university holds for WRUR, while not in the commercial band of the FM spectrum, is extremely valuable. There are no high-power FM licenses available in Rochester --- hence the existence of WXXI-AM. WXXI's Norm Silverstein laments the low power and coverage issues of the WXXI-AM signal. I am sure he would like nothing more than to migrate more and more of WXXI-AM and its programming over to a high-power FM station such as WRUR.
Ted Vaczy, Mendon
It was a pleasant surprise ("Mixed Signals," June 25) to see City writing about the radio industry, a subject that otherwise seems to get print coverage locally only when there's some salacious gossip about a talk show host to report ("Mixed Signals," June 25).
It was far less pleasant --- and not that much of a surprise --- to find Ron Netsky repeating, apparently without even the most cursory attempt at fact-checking, several of the accusations that have been leveled against the industry's biggest player.
Netsky claims that Clear Channel Radio banned the Dixie Chicks' music "from all its stations" after the group's lead singer criticized President Bush. It would be a great story, if only it were true; in fact, as numerous industry trade journals reported in the aftermath of the controversy, Clear Channel left that decision to local management at each of its stations.
Here in Rochester, where Clear Channel owns no country stations, the group's music continued to be played on Clear Channel's WVOR (Mix 100.5), as well as on Entercom's country station, WBEE-FM (92.5).
Only one radio group of any size implemented an outright ban on the Dixie Chicks. Atlanta-based Cumulus Media dropped the group from all of its 42 country stations (none of them in New York State) after company executive John Dickey (whose father, Lew Dickey Sr., once ran Rochester's WRTK radio, the predecessor of WXXI 1370) declared himself "angry" about the remark and called for a public apology.
In any event, I fail to see what Netsky's digressive attack on Clear Channel had to do with the future of WRUR, a noncommercial license that can never be acquired by any commercial broadcaster, Clear Channel included.
Under its present management, WRUR has been a woefully inconsistent radio station, signing on and off the air seemingly at random. Its alliance with WXXI, far from threatening the variety of programming available to local listeners, has the potential to keep the 88.5 spot on the dial alive with interesting and valuable content at times when the station is presently broadcasting nothing at all.
That said, one can hope that WXXI will seize the opportunity, whether as part of the WRUR alliance or on another spot on the dial, to create a program offering that is more than just a simulcast of AM 1370 (whose signal, at least during daylight hours, is hardly as weak as Netsky portrays.)
Listeners in cities such as Philadelphia (WXPN), Louisville (WFPK), Los Angeles (KCRW) and even --- for part of the day --- the Finger Lakes (WEOS 89.7, based at Geneva's Hobart and William Smith Colleges) are fortunate to have public broadcasters who offer an "adult album alternative" or "AAA" format, playing artists such as Lucinda Williams and Richard Thompson, who get short shrift on most commercial rock stations.
The Rochester market once supported such a format, on the late, lamented WMAX-FM (106.7), which was reasonably successful in the ratings but not profitable enough to avoid a format change when the station was sold to a predecessor of today's Clear Channel. It's not hard to imagine that a revival of the format could bring WXXI some much-needed financial support from a younger listener base than currently contributes to WXXI's news and classical programming.
Scott Fybush, Bonnie Brae Avenue, Brighton (Fybush is the editor and publisher of the radio trade journal "NorthEast
Radio Watch," http://www.fybush.com.)
The news of WXXI's interest in WRUR's bandwidth should serve as a warning flag to anyone in Rochester who values local or minority content on radio, or is opposed to increasing corporatization of broadcast media. As a former community broadcaster, I can testify that it is difficult if not impossible for independent voices to be heard unfiltered on radio in Rochester.
What passes for community radio in this city has been dependent upon the caprices of the student-based governing boards of Rochester's two college radio stations with citywide coverage, WITR and WRUR. What happened to the jazz staff of WRUR could happen at any time to any of these stations' broadcasters.
Despite these limitations, there have been a number of outstanding locally-based programs airing on local college radio. WITR is host to radio programs by Charlie Appell and Cathy Landers-Appell, as well as the long-running Indestructible Beat, Cyberstorm, Reggae Sounds and Whole Lotta Shakin'. WRUR was a home (until recently) to That Techno Show and the aforementioned jazz DJs, and still is a home, for now, to Rick Petrie's In All Languages, DJ Mighty's weekly house music show, DJ D-Imperial's Hot Spot, and DJ Dwight's Reggae Roundup.
But even these successes reveal notable absences, precisely those of local independent news gathering and political content. WRUR has had a long-standing policy, dating back to the 1960s, of airing no political programming. (Granted, this didn't stop Avery Blackman's short-lived Afro-Centric Show on WRUR, but this was most likely due to the student staff's inattention or willingness to subvert the policy.) The only thing coming close to independent, locally-based political content on radio in Rochester is WITR's The Burn Ward, a feeble exercise of two undergraduate RIT students parsing through a newspaper, spouting instantaneous, roughly formulated opinions.
Would the situation improve at WRUR with WXXI as sugar daddy? If the precedent set by NPR stations in general remains consistent, it's likely we'll get a lot of lip service about diversity and little actual content reflecting the needs and desires of minority and working-class audiences, as well as the loss of local content to syndicated programming.
A survey conducted by Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting late last year showed a consistent dearth of non-white, non-male voices on NPR stations across seven urban markets [Extra 9-10/2002]. Furthermore, NPR sided with the National Association of Broadcasters in its smear campaign directed at the proposed Low Power FM service, which would have opened up legal opportunities for community radio to flourish without having to resort to pirate broadcasting.
Dave Duncan, Valley Brook Drive, Fairport
In regards to "Mixed Signals" (June 25): Soon wattage will have no meaning, nor will Clear Channel's dominance. We have been webcasting 24/7 for three years and have listeners all over the country and the world.
Web radio and TV will soon be the most powerful medium. And with it will come a lot of great music and truthful news. We are doing all of that right now: http://www.dynrec.com/predict.html.
Dave Kaspersin, Dynamic Independent Radio, Dewey Avenue, Rochester, http://www.wdyn.net.
Regarding "Mixed Signals" and "Concentrated Dilution," June 25: Like a lot of people I know, I have not given tremendous thought to what I listen to on the radio. I like what I hear, or I press the scan button.
However, at a time when it seems only some views are acceptable and those in disagreement are more likely to be silenced, the new FCC regulations are frightening. I have not been a faithful listener of either WXXI or WRUR in the past, but after resetting all my preset buttons to college stations and 91.5 FM, I was thrilled to hear NPR on my drive into work this morning.
I hope WXXI and WRUR continue to collaborate and find a way to make the schedule acceptable to faithful, longtime listeners. But as a new listener, I am hooked and plan to tune in every morning. I plan to tell everyone I can about the new alternative to mindless talk on morning radio.
Thank you WRUR, WXXI, and City for being available to those of us who value the spirit of Freedom of Speech.
Caitlin Dickinson, Meigs Street, Rochester
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