THE LOWELL CONNECTION. Would Greater Boston be better off if WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) were run by Boston University students? Of course not. Former general manager Jane Christo had the insight that the station could serve the entire community with news and information programming. As commercial radio increasingly gave up on any notions of public service and localism, 'BUR grew into a vital media resource.
So it was with some mixed feelings this morning that I read Greg Gatlin's account in the Boston Herald of the battle over the UMass Lowell student radio station, WUML (91.5 FM). According to Gatlin, the university, having tried and failed with a morning show produced by the Lowell Sun, is now seeking to expand its non-student offerings, with Lowell Spinners baseball games and - get this - possibly a program to be hosted by Christopher Lydon. Lydon, of course, was fired by WBUR in 2001 in the midst of an ugly public showdown with Christo.
"Help Save Your Station" is the message on the WUML website. The statement, which urges students to contact university administrators, says in part:
This decision was made without any input from the students who run WUML, and have done so for the past 52 years. Our radio station is funded through the student activities department, whose funds come from student fees.
Student fees shouldn't be used to fund the university's ambitions for a radio station with broader reach. On the other hand, a radio station - particularly one not owned by Clear Channel or one of the other big chains - is a precious community resource. I'm sympathetic to the students, but they're not the only ones affected by this.
The university has something that is very difficult to get: a license from the FCC. There ought to be a way for that license to benefit the residents of Greater Lowell as well as the students at UMass. And wouldn't it be great for Lydon to be back on the air? With Christo gone, it's not inconceivable that a syndicated Lydon show could be picked up by - yes, WBUR.