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.