college radio goes corporate. Students, faculty members, and
community activists will meet with UMass Lowell chancellor William
Hogan and other administrators on Wednesday to protest a contract to
turn over 25 weekly hours of programming on the student-run radio
station to the Lowell Sun.
music director for WJUL Radio (91.5 FM), estimates that as many as
100 to 200 people may turn out for the meeting, which will begin at 6
p.m. in the multi-purpose room of the North Campus
"This station has
been student-run for 50 years, and they came in behind our backs and
set all this up without even coming to us first," says Murphy. "This
could affect every college station everywhere."
In an age of
increasing corporate media concentration, Murphy fears that the
relationship with the Sun -- owned by Dean Singleton's
Denver-based MediaNews Group -- will lead to the "homogenization" of
a station that bills itself as "Real Underground Radio." Murphy also
warns that the Sun's involvement may eventually lead to the
demise of programs that serve Lowell's ethnic communities, such as
Café Latino and Voice of Cambodian
"Is a Cambodian
show profitable? Absolutely not. But is it essential and important?
Absolutely," says Murphy.
concerns is Victoria Fahlberg, director of One Lowell, a coalition of
a dozen immigrant and social-services organizations. She plans to
attend the Wednesday meeting to press for assurances that immigrant
programming will remain intact, and that the Sun will not be
given even more hours as time goes on.
that before any contract was signed that they would talk to them
about it. And that's where people are feeling really uncomfortable --
it's that they feel that their voice wasn't heard, Fahlberg says.
"There's a trust issue, I guess, at this point."
Dunlap, the university's executive director of communications and
marketing, who will oversee the relationship with the Sun,
says such fears are groundless -- although she concedes that, "in
retrospect, I think we should have been talking to the students more
than we did."
According to Dunlap
and Kendall Wallace, the Sun's president and publisher, the
Sun will produce a weekday news show from 5 to 10 a.m. Dunlap
calls it "very much like WBZ, but with a Merrimack Valley focus," a
reference to Boston's top-rated all-news station. Wallace says it
will be a cross between WBZ and public radio, with news, sports,
weather, and traffic. There will be no advertising, although Wallace
says commercial underwriters will be sought -- an arrangement that
will be familiar to anyone who listens to Boston's two big public
stations, WBUR and WGBH.
With a range of
about 15 to 20 miles, WJUL, with 1400 watts of power, reaches just
about all of the Merrimack Valley, Dunlap says.
As for what the
relationship will mean for the future of the station, Wallace and
Dunlap paint a positive picture: a full-time staff person, whose
$40,000-a-year salary will be picked up by the Sun; a new
studio, also to be paid for by the Sun, which will most likely
be located in Fox Hall, a residence and student-activities center
(the Tsongas Arena, an early contender, has been ruled out); and
opportunities for internships.
Dunlap insists that
the arrangement does not signal any reduction in the university's
commitment to community programming on 'JUL, and that the 25 hours a
week being turned over to the Sun will not be increased. She
does note that a yet-to-be named editorial board of students,
faculty, and community representatives may decide to make further
changes in programming, but says of the students, "If they're willing
to work with us, I honestly believe it will be a better experience
with the Sun, she adds, grew out of talks that began about a
year ago, and that coincided with a mandate from the UMass board of
trustees to maximize the use of its radio stations at all of its
Wallace says the
Sun has wanted to get into the radio business for some time,
and that it may buy a commercial station if the opportunity presents
itself. The Sun has set up a nonprofit entity to manage the
WJUL show, which will be hosted by a Sun staff member, John
Collins, and which could debut in as soon as two weeks.
As for whether the
move had its origins in Lowell or Denver, Wallace says, "MediaNews is
one of the leading forces in the country for cross-ownership, but
they haven't driven this, no. They're aware of the idea, they like
it, they think it's a step in the right direction."
It may turn out
that what the relationship represents is worse than the reality. As
Dunlap notes, the show will be broadcast at a time when most students
are "either sleeping or in class." And -- let's be honest -- it could
be a boon to Merrimack Valley residents looking for local news and
traffic reports at the beginning of the day.
At the same time,
though, the Sun program constitutes a serious commercial
encroachment by a media conglomerate into college radio -- the
closest thing there is to independent radio in the age of
Murphy says that
WJUL and similar small college stations are about the only place
where noncommercial punk, hip-hop, and the like can be heard these
days. The Sun agreement would not appear to threaten that, but
who's to say what another financially strapped public university
might do in league with a media conglomerate?
observes that this is about a lot more than one show on one station.
Indeed, he says, it's about "music and ideas that would otherwise go
unheard and that aren't heard anywhere else on the dial."