Discourse / Letters / September 25, 2013

Letter to the Editor: It’s the end of WVKC as we know it

On August 9 a statement was released on the Knox College website announcing a deal between 90.7 WVKC and Macomb’s Tri States Public Radio detailing a new partnership that would bring the station equipment upgrades and a new NPR broadcast. What the statement did not indicate was that the deal effectively killed student broadcasting, silencing the programming that led the station to gain the moniker, “the voice of Knox College.”

As a former WVKC staff member of three years the news of the deal was angering and disappointing in equal measures. The school is disguising that WVKC is now an NPR station first and a student-run radio station second. The deal brings about a number of significant changes. First, the analog channel 90.7 FM will no longer carry student broadcasting, but instead be NPR. Second, an HD channel will be added to the station with NPR broadcasting on 90.7-1 HD and student broadcasting on 90.7-2 HD.  Third, streaming capabilities of the station will be increased and students will continue to be able to stream their shows (NPR already has streaming capabilities). Fourth, as a result of the partnership and new management in the station, students will be able to have internships in a station that they used to be able to run. Finally, and most importantly, the school will not have to pay for the upgrades or for station upkeep. The financial implications of the deal cannot be understated considering Knox’s current budget problems.

Knox students got a raw deal.  Evidence does not support the claims by President Teresa Amott and Board of Internet and Publication (BIP) chair Andrew Civettini that analog radio is dying and that HD radio is a means of modernizing the station. In all actuality, HD radio is a ten year old technology that has not been widely adopted.  According to the reputable Pew Research Center’s “State of the News Media 2013” survey more radio stations dropped HD radio than adopted it last year. In December of 2011 a total of 2,103 stations were broadcasting in HD, while in December of 2012 that number dropped to 2,048.  Meanwhile, Jennifer Waits of radiosurvivor.com compared the FCC’s quarterly list of broadcast stations in the US and found that in the September of 2011 to September of 2012 period traditional radio channels grew from 14,865 to 15,128.  Simply put, traditional radio’s death has been greatly exaggerated.   Numbers regarding the adoption rate of HD radio by individuals is also not promising:  Pew’s “State of the News Media 2012” survey showed that only 2 percent of radio listeners were using HD radio in their cars at any given time and since its creation the percentage of people who are “very interested” in HD radio has never topped 8 percent.

President Amott responded to a number of criticisms of the deal that were posted on Knox’s Facebook page saying that “we spent nearly a full year considering the change, and the proposal was presented to Knox students, faculty and staff associated with WVKC for their approval.”  In May, Civettini said to TKS, “If the general managers had significant opposition, we would have engaged in a much lengthier conversation about the idea.”  While the administration may have considered the change for a year, according to both Student Senate President Philip Bennett (then Vice President) and WVKC co-manager Hali Engelman, students had very little time to consider the deal.

On May 19 an email was sent out to Student Senate leaders and WVKC staff members inviting them to an “important and time-sensitive meeting” regarding the future of WVKC.  At no point in this email was a conversion to HD radio brought up, nor was the meeting made open to the Knox public at large. When the meeting occurred on May 22nd, Bennett said that “very few questions were asked.”  Engelman said, “If they had laid out the plan and given us even just a day to think it over, or at least figure out what HD radio is, the meeting might have played out differently. Most of us had never even seen a HD radio much less listened to the radio on one. But those who ran the meeting acted as if this was an inevitable change. … the basic gist I got was that they didn’t want to approve the deal without getting our okay, but they were probably going to approve the deal anyway.”

 

Bennett added that immediately following the meeting the students present were asked not to discuss what occurred there with the student body at large.  The first real public discussion was the TKS piece “‘End of an era’ for WVKC” published on May 30.  If those in charge of the deal wanted an honest and open discourse, why did they leave it to the very end of the school year to bring it up, especially if the deal had been in the works for a full year?  Knox student leaders and WVKC representatives were playing against a stacked deck from the start, so the notion that the school actually gained any sort of “approval” for these changes is dishonest at best. This deal was never made in the students’ best interests but instead was a purely financial move.

Knox touts and advertises WVKC’s frequent high rankings from the Princeton Review, but I can guarantee that the station’s rankings are going to drop as long as students are not broadcasting on the standard FM channel.  A number of former DJ alumni have told me that they would not have a radio show under the new deal and for good reason–they might as well have a podcast to reach largely the same audience that one would have when broadcasting in HD and streaming.

Something that is particularly upsetting to me is that at no point during this discussion does it appear that the connection that the station fosters between the school and Galesburg was brought up. A number of Galesburg residents have shows and now they will not have the same broadcast capabilities that they previously possessed. As Galesburg and Knox have held a somewhat tense relationship, severing this connection seems to be a rash and poorly thought out decision.

I sincerely hope that Knox students, WVKC DJs and WVKC staff push back against the school aggressively until they either regain the 90.7 FM channel or obtain a new one. The students that could have spoken up against the deal were not given a fair opportunity to do so. WVKC is dead; long live WVKC.

Trevor Sorenson

Tags:  90.7 andrew civettini Board of Internet and Publication Knox College Teresa Amott Tri States Public Radio wvkc

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  • todd smith

    While I don’t mean to take issue with all that you’ve said, there a few things you must either consider, or correct, when making your opinion.

    First and foremost, it must be said, as you’ve told us of your history with WVKC, that had the nearly autonomous student staff and body of DJs kept the station from disrepair, curbed foul language and complaints, and kept and maintained documentation, they may have continued to go unnoticed. It’s true that the staff advisor had slowly eroded into a non-existent position, and that is not the fault of student staff. However, it is always the fault of those who recognize a state of non sustainability and do nothing about it. In a sense, the station was slowly let run into the ground, and the student staff did nothing about it.

    This would be a different debate if the station had been self regulatory and completely healthy, and then suddenly the administration stepped in to take over or to propose some “new deal”. The fact is that if the administration had not stepped in, the station would now be without a license. Not for gross misconduct, or complaints or violations, but for not even being organized enough to renew their own license.

    So, a few things to get straight. The student run station is still student run. There are paid student staff and DJs, just as in the past. There are ZERO internships in “a station that they used to be able to run”. You need to realize that is as wrong as a flat earth. There will be internships available at a downtown branch of Tri-States Public Radio that will open in Galesburg. This branch will be full time staffed by a reporter and an underwriter. This is a chance for high level internships regarding journalism, writing, production and all manner of independent study. The four student senate representatives present at the meeting you alluded to last year were all vocally excited about the internships. Once again, ZERO internships in “a station that they used to be able to run”. Wrong.

    Second, while it’s true that the additional HD equipment and maintenance does not present any new financial responsibilities to the college, there is no reduction of Knox’s cost to maintain the station. The student staff will not be paid by Tri-States radio, nor will they be paying for any equipment upgrades or maintenance. All internal equipment necessary to do shows as in the past falls under Knox’s responsibility. Nor will we reap any profit from this partnership.

    Your “number of Galesburg residents” who have shows is exactly 4. One has dropped out because of health reasons, another only does shows early Sunday mornings about every 3 weeks. That leaves you 2. Call me crazy, but proactive outreach and recruiting of community members to participate would probably come up with much more than 2. The fact is that the community members who have shows are all longstanding, no one new. They’re all also folks who took it upon themselves to come to Knox, not the other way around.

    As far as HD goes, you may be right. I don’t have a bunch of numbers to throw around. However, there was no current or past serious student initiative to improve WVKC reach at all. We have a very small analog capacity. I know students who could not even reliably pick it up on campus. While HD may not be the surest way to go based on national statistics, it does offer Knox and the Galesburg community a chance to improve and expand. WVKC has never been able to reach a national audience or to focus on alumni. We’ve never been able to stream to more than about 40 listeners, and those could all be eaten up just on campus. The majority of students don’t own cars, and the majority of students don’t own analog radios. Streaming, whether HD or some other format, is the most common way of listening, through desktops all the way down to smartphones. Most of the folks who’ve complained haven’t really talked about the stations reach. It seems there’s a small squadron of former student staff out there who remember fondly their huge audience who will now be left in the cold. Hundreds of dedicated analog listeners who will now be lost. I don’t mean to be sarcastic, but I’m old enough to have a radio and a car, and I always found listening to be a hassle. If I’m driving around, it goes in and out. If I’m at home I need to turn the antenna just so, all for dead air half the time.

    The students were asked to not speak about it to the public for the same reason you would ask anyone privy to a not-yet-decided event or change. The school has much bigger fish to fry if you’re looking for a conspiracy theory. You have to recognize that full time faculty, staff, and administration will always have a slightly different perspective than students. The VAST majority of students leave. They start things, get involved, get passionate, then they leave. It’s the nature of being a student, and without that the school would die. However, there are many decisions that also have to take longevity into account. We have a new flourishing bike-share program now, with a bike shop. Both are poised to maintain success now because of the additional involvement from, and support of full time staff, instead of the usual ebb and flow of relying solely on student involvement. In other words, the most negative reaction has been from the past. Former staff, outgoing staff, people lamenting for days gone by better times. Unfortunately, those folks are mostly thinking about themselves, they’re not the ones still here working on the ground, seeing what really works, and what will take us forward. We may not have done everything perfectly, but we’re only trying to move forward, not maintain the old status quo. When you came to Knox were you hoping to have course offerings from the 70s, or were you glad to see course offerings that were evolving to reflect the times? This is not some insidious plot to take the station away from the students, or to somehow generate nefarious income by whoring out our station. The involvement of full time staff, with the new opportunities that (I think) outweigh the losses, have left the incoming staff and DJs more opportunity to do diverse programming and reach a larger audience than any time in the past.

    Lastly, you must remember that, unlike any other entity on campus, WVKC is a federally regulated radio station. The FCC can issue fines for many things. We are not in compliance with dead air, we are not in compliance with no station IDs, we are not in compliance with songs or DJs using profanity. We are not in compliance with an outdated expired license. Knox college has a responsibility to maintain and guide the station, that is very much unlike the workings of a student club. We seek as much involvement as possible, but we will never please everyone, and this year’s highly motivated students will be gone next year, replaced by someone with as much energy, and a completely different idea.

  • Samantha

    As one of the current General Managers of WVKC I have to say that most of what you wrote parallels my frustrations with the changes. I know I was not able to comment due to work overloads at the end of the summer, but I am very, VERY upset that you said that WVKC is dead.

    WVKC IS NOT DEAD, and the students who are working for the station have put in many many hours of hard work trying to make up for all of the people who are going around saying that it is dead. It creates extremely high barriers that we have to get around in order to bring more students, faculty, and Galesburg residents involved, which is a MAJOR goal for the station this year.

    So, as I appreciate the fervor that you wrote this with (I can tell you really loved WVKC when you were here), I would appreciate even more if you could take the time to think about how much it harms us to have an article stating such an erroneous comment.

    -WVKC, BORN FREE

    • Andrea Miklasz

      After my 4-year tenure as a DJ at WVKC and a year as Program Director in 1993-1994, I did a final semester in the Chicago Arts Program (ACM) working as an unpaid intern for WKQX-FM, Q101, in Chicago. It completely disillusioned my experience in commercial radio, as I was privy to corporate placating and competition. It was the furthest thing from the independent environment of WVKC that I could imagine. If you and your staff, Samantha, can keep WVKC “born free,” good luck and bless you.I just don’t see it happening with any involvement from NPR.

      One thing I gleaned from my supervisors at Q101, legendary rock critics Jim DeRogatis and Bill Wyman, it was to NEVER major in journalism if you want to succeed in the broadcasting business. Knox offering this as a concentration or a major is ludicrous and plunks the atmosphere and credibility of Knox College down to that of a state school offering majors in “communications.” It’s a slap in the intellectual face.

  • Trevor Sorenson

    Todd,

    Thank for for reading as well as your comment. Particularly appreciated are your comments regarding that Knox will continue to pay for station maintenance and that the internships would be located off of campus. I think it speaks volumes to the lack of transparency throughout this whole process that even though I had spoken to students present at the meeting who were both members of Senate and WVKC and had my article proofed for accuracy neither of them were privy to those particular details. Knox’s releases and TKS’s articles regarding the change similarly were not very clear on those two points.

    I do not believe that this change is any sort of “conspiracy” as you put it, nor do I believe I had framed it as such. Prior to your comment, I saw the deal as financially motivated. This, in my mind, is at least somewhat justifiable. I would not agree with it, but if it came down to professor salaries vs. the radio station, I’d probably land on the side of professor salaries. The newly brought to light information that Knox will continue to foot the maintenance bill does little to change my thoughts on the issue, in fact, it only makes me believe that this was a worse decision by the school. If they were receiving compensation aside from streaming upgrades then at least there could be some amount of justification, after all, money talks.

    You make a number of claims in your comment that I believe to be both ill-informed and misguided, bordering on hostility towards not just me, but also the station and the station’s current and previous DJs and staff. Much of the studio’s equipment is outdated, correct, and the staff every year has been well aware of this fact. Every year that I had been on staff discussions were made and research conducted into what could be improved with our budget and how. I can only imagine that this occurred in the years since I’ve left the staff. Here is the problem that was encountered: the equipment was so outdated that not only could we not afford to upgrade parts, but even if we could the new parts would not function with the older parts that we had (computers, streaming, the computer that held the library, etc.). The budget simply was not large enough to undertake such a project. The school has found a convenient way to upgrade the equipment at virtually no cost to them, but to great detriment to the student body. As far as profanity on the air and general studio maintenance goes, that’s a risk that’s run with a station that encourages such a large number of shows term to term. There simply are not enough staff members to monitor the air 24 / 7, nor should the staff have to. After all, the school prides itself on personal responsibility through the Honor Code. In the event that profanities were aired and a staff member knew or learned about it or a complaint was received about content the station pulled shows. We had no problem doing so. If you’re hearing something that staff members are not, then let them know. The station has not had a shortage of people who want to DJ.

    The way that you, and the school, it seems, flippantly disregard not only the Galesburg DJs, but also that the primary audience of the station are Galesburg residents, is particularly troubling. Galesburg’s population totally dwarfs the size of Knox’s population and WVKC provided a drastic change of content from the handful of largely top-40 radio stations. If the station existed solely to broadcast to one’s friends or even just the campus, then, again, a podcast would fit the bill perfectly and skirt any potential issues regarding content with the FCC. At one time the station had a local music director to help foster the relationship between the radio station (and consequently the campus) and the Galesburg community at large. Has anyone at the school actually seen what the desire is in Galesburg for this particular NPR affiliate versus WVKC? Or, for that matter, the number of people in Galesburg that have access to an HD radio or listen to the radio primarily through streaming? My guess is no. I know I’m not the only one that sees this move as very problematic from a socioeconomic standpoint, also, NPR is both available on the radio in Galesburg or streamable, so it’s not filling any sort of gap programming-wise.

    The assumption that you make that WVKC seeks to extend its reach is totally misguided. Why should WVKC extend outside Galesburg? The reason why there has never been a push to extend its broadcast range is that there has never really been the desire to. Knox DJs and Galesburg DJs seem perfectly contented broadcasting only to Knox and Galesburg. HD radio exists primarily in cars and something tells me that neither Knox students or Galesburg residents are going to spring for the upgrade when there currently is only one other station available on HD in Galesburg. This is purely anecdotal data (as I’ve provided a number of studies already), but I know of nobody that has or plans on obtaining an HD capable device. There is no indication that HD radio is going to take a significant market share from traditional radio particularly in a market like Galesburg. Increased streaming capabilities are great, but not worth the sacrifice of the channel because it will limit the ability of students to broadcast to a diverse listening base. I had a car and I never had any issue listening to WVKC within or outside the city limits, so maybe you should get your antenna checked. A podcast can easily fill all of the criteria that a radio show restricts, namely content, the length of the show, when one shows up and does the show, and the ability to listen to it. Streaming was an added bonus to WVKC, but not the primary mode of broadcast.

    To your final point, WVKC has had its fair share of problems, as has many college radio stations. As mentioned before, by having the sheer amount of shows that the station does, it runs a particularly great risk of those problems occurring. However, the student demand for shows is there. I cannot think of any year that I was a student that we didn’t have to turn down students for shows. When push comes to shove, however, none of these issues that you raised were presented as motives for changing the station over to HD. If they were, then, again, that’s a major issue of transparency that the school should resolve.

    I know you’ve been a major cheerleader of the change based upon your other posts on other articles, however, I hope this clarifies my position and shows that I am not “lamenting for days gone by better times” as you put it, but instead looking forward and to the best interests of the school, students, and Galesburg community at large.

    Best,

    Trevor

  • Trevor Sorenson

    I remembered something I neglected to ask in my original comment: are you aware if the internships are paid? If not, do you know why? Finally, were any of the other Galesburg radio stations offering internships previously? I know that the newspaper had (as well as jobs), but I am certain about the radio stations.

  • Don Blaheta

    Just to correct an impression that the first poster made: WVKC’s analog range was considerably further than campus. I left my car tuned to WVKC and got a strong, clear signal all over town and decent signal well outside it (e.g past Wataga to the northeast and *almost* to Monmouth to the west). It’s possible that some students had a bad radio or whatever, but Mr. Smith’s implication seemed to be that the signal was so feeble it couldn’t even cover campus. (If that were true, why would NPR want access to it?)

    As for whether the station is “dead” or not, I guess you can argue that something named WVKC still exists, but it seems clear that for anybody in town who (like me) listened to it in the car and on their stereo at home, there is no longer access to the decades-long excellent content they’d been receiving. Mr. Sorensen’s letter’s title seems apt. What a shame.

  • Kate Donoghue

    Samantha,

    No one is trying to undermine all the work that WVKC staff undertakes. I hope you’ll find that staff alumni and their friends will be the first to agree with you that staffing the station is a very hard, and mostly thankless job. It’s because of the dedication of the staff that WVKC became the awesome institution it was for so long, and I sincerely sympathize with the current additional difficulties you and your staff are facing when it comes to generating interest and enthusiasm for the station this year.

    However, I want to posit that those difficulties stem from the administration’s decision to forgo WVKC’s analog channel, and thus sacrifice the largest chunk of its broadcasting appeal for students, NOT from Trevor’s article and/or word choice. If anything, alums like him and like Andrea Miklasz, who also wrote in to TKS, are your staunchest allies in this. We hope that with enough outcry from alums and current students, something can be done to try to rectify this situation. At the very least, we hope to open a conversation with the administration; something they seem to wish to avoid.

  • Andrea Miklasz

    Kate,

    Yes, I am a staunch ally of Samantha and all the other tireless student volunteers at WVKC. You know when you have successful artists like Steven Drozd firmly behind the maintenance of the station AS IS, it means something.

    Samantha, who fills the dead air when that happens at the station? Do you leave your radio on all night and when you hear dead air, do you lug your records and piles of CD’s up to GDH to fill in slots of DJ’s who failed to show up to their shows? That’s what it was like in the 90’s for us when we managed the station. The bats were another story. :)

    • Samantha

      Haha, yes the bats. They still exist. Also, the staff still lugs themselves up GDH. I have done it many times myself. I know it is easy to romanticize WVKC, but the fact is that we now have much more opportunity for people to listen to the diverse programming we have at Knox. Even if that means our usual listeners may have trouble listening to us.
      I only own analog radios, and until the beginning of this school year I didn’t even have internet in my apartment. So I understand the frustration, but I also have to understand the benefits we receive. We are in this for five years, whether we like it or not.
      The radio staff were approached before the decision, but we had only an hour meeting to learn about the change and to make a “decision” which I felt was a little shady, but hopefully not malicious.

      Also, I am sorry if my comment on your article seems harsh. I was very worked up while writing it. Emotions and debates don’t mix very well.



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