WYSO fate sparks concerns
- Published: April 24, 2008
ANTIOCH DECISION SOON
Antioch University leaders will announce their decision regarding the fate of Antioch College no later than this Saturday, April 26, the date of the college’s graduation ceremony, according to an Antioch University press release on April 17.
The university board of trustees met with the Antioch College Continuation Corporation, or ACCC, on Wednesday, April 16, in Columbus, according to the statement. The trustees had been under pressure to meet directly with the ACCC, a group of major donors and former trustees that seeks to make Antioch College independent of the university and keep the college going. At this time, the college is scheduled to close on June 30.
“The day was successful in producing a very open and honest dialogue, and significant in affirming that each one of us is committed to Antioch College and Antioch University,” according to the press statement from university spokesperson Lynda Sirk. “We have not yet reached a final agreement on how to proceed, but we are working extremely hard on a way forward.”
For more information on graduation activities, see page 2 of the News. For updated information on the university’s decision, go to http://www.ysnews.com.
In recent weeks concerns have heightened among supporters of WYSO Public Radio that Antioch University intends to sell the radio station, and a statement by university leaders that they plan to keep the station has not been convincing, according to several radio activists.
“It is not reassuring, and it sounds like they will probably be interested in selling in the future,” said Larry Halpern of Keep WYSO Local this week.
Concerns for the fate of WYSO intensified when negotiations between the university and the Antioch College Continuation Corporation, which seeks independence for the college, broke down several weeks ago, and the ownership of WYSO was identified in a university press release as a sticking point that prevented the two sides from striking a deal. According to ACCC co-chair Eric Bates at that time, members of the university negotiating team had stated that the university had an interest in keeping the station in order to eventually sell its license.
In response to WYSO listeners’ concerns, Antioch University on April 7 released a press statement stating that it is not selling the station.
“We have no plans to sell WYSO now and we are not in negotiation to sell it,” Board Chair Art Zucker said in the statement. Also in the statement, Chancellor Toni Murdock cited the university’s financial investment in creating mini-stations at the university’s graduate campuses.
“WYSO is a key part of Antioch University, and we intend to keep it that way,” she said in the statement.
However, those statements, while they identify the university position at this moment, do not offer reassurance regarding future intentions, according to several Keep WYSO Local members. Also adding to the concern is the station’s current deficit and the relatively high price its license could bring, and the fact that WYSO has not yet begun a search for a new general manager, a position that has been vacant since January.
“It shouldn’t be that hard to come up with a statement that there is no intention of selling the license in the foreseeable future,” Ellis Jacobs of Keep WYSO Local said. The group’s first choice would be to have the ACCC obtain control of the station, according to Jacobs, but in lieu of that outcome, an “iron-clad” statement signaling university intentions not to sell would help.
When asked last week if he could make such a statement, Antioch University Chief Financial Officer Tom Faecke, who oversees station operations, declined to do so.
“I have nothing more to say than the press release,” he said. “I stand by its contents.”
Murdock and Zucker were not available for comment due to an information embargo that continues this week, according to university spokesperson Lynda Sirk last week.
Currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, WYSO Public Radio is one of the nation’s oldest public radio stations. Throughout most of its history, it has played an integral role in the education of Antioch College communications students, according to Antioch College archivist Scott Sanders, and several alumni have achieved national recognition, including NPR correspondent John McChesney and JoAnne Wallace, general manager of the nation’s largest public radio station, KQED, in San Francisco.
The station currently operates as a 37,000 watt licensed Class B noncommercial station, and reaches an area of more than one million people, according to the 2004 Census estimates.
WYSO is the official National Public Radio affiliate in the Miami Valley, and as such the only one that broadcasts the news programs “All Things Considered,” “Morning Edition” and “Weekend Edition.” It is also the primary source of news from the BBC, Public Radio International, and other non-mainstream news sources.
As such, it plays a critical role in the community, according to Jacobs.
“WYSO is an important part of alternative culture in this community and an important outlet for alternative political viewpoints as well. We would miss it giving voice to those who don’t get a voice in commercial radio,” he said.
If at some point the university announces it will sell the station, “We need to make clear that there will be a big uproar,” Jacobs said.
Keep WYSO Local’s concern, according to Halpern, is that only Christian radio stations are wealthy enough to afford the price of the license, so that if it were sold, the area would no longer have a National Public Radio source.
The station’s financial woes add to supporters’ concerns that the university would gain by selling it. In recent years, WYSO has most often lost money. Currently, the station runs a deficit “in the neighborhood of $100,000,” according to Faecke last week.
Radio station licenses rarely go on the market and can fetch a high price, according to Andy Valeri of Keep WYSO Local, who has researched the market. While Faecke estimated the value of the station’s license at about $4 million, Valeri puts it at between $5 and $10 million, based on comparisons with recent sales. A year ago, FM station WVXU in Cincinnati sold its license for about $15 million, although that station is larger, with repeater stations throughout the state, according to a Dayton Daily News article, and in January of this year a Denver FM station of comparable size to WYSO, KFDN, sold for $8 million.
WYSO also has high definition capability, an asset that could add to its value, according to Valeri.
Also fueling concerns that the station may be for sale is the currently unoccupied position of station general manager. Former General Manager Paul Maassen left the station in January for a new job in New Orleans, and he has not been replaced, nor has a search begun for his position. However, according to WYSO Business Manager Jacki Mayer, that search will begin soon.
Mayer also stated that the university does not plan to sell the station.
“They have invested a great deal of time and money into this place,” she said, stating that a recently completed “campus interconnect program” will allow Antioch University campuses in New Hampshire, Seattle and Los Angeles to broadcast from those campuses.
Al Denman, who recently left the WYSO resource board after four years, also believes the university does not plan to sell the station. WYSO provides publicity for Antioch University McGregor programs in the region and “offers a unique opportunity for building a national university,” he said.
But most Keep WYSO Local supporters are not assured, and the concern has reactivated the group, which had been comparatively inactive the past few years. The group began in response to 2002 changes in programming made by then General Manager Steve Spencer, who replaced many longtime volunteer-hosted local programs with syndicated programming. Keep WYSO Local activists have credited Maassen with improving communications with the group, and with returning to some local programming.
Direct communication between university leaders and Keep WYSO Local would be a first step to help assuage the group’s concerns, Halpern said.
The ACCC considers WYSO a priority because of the critical role it has played educating college communications students, according to Bates, who stated that the ACCC and the university negotiating team agreed at the outset of negotiations that assets of the college that existed before the creation of the university system in the late 1970s would remain with the college if the two sides struck a deal. However, he said that university negotiators later changed their mind and claimed WYSO. Faecke said that there was never an initial agreement that WYSO would stay with the college.