Jennifer Brooks of The Tennessean writes of the switch from the eclectic university station to Nashville Public Radios purchase to begin an all-classical station at 91.1:
Tuesday saw a massive shuffling of Nashville’s nonprofit radio stations.
Nashville Public Radio bought Vanderbilt University’s beloved WRVU student radio.
The student radio station, with its signature call letters, is moving to an all-online format, while public radio will use the new frequency to increase its offerings — all-talk on WPLN and all-classical on the newly created Classical 91.1, the spot on the dial that WRVU occupied for almost 60 years.
At midnight, WRVU went off the air for the first time since 1953. From now on, the estimated 30,000 listeners a month who tuned into the offbeat college station will click on wrvu.com to listen.
Meanwhile, classical music fans outraged when WPLN dropped classical music from its daytime roster in 2009 will have an entire station to themselves.
The $3.35 million sale allows Vanderbilt Student Communications to retain the WRVU name and to switch to an all-online format. The student communications group pushed ahead with the sale, despite protests from the station’s fans, arguing that college students today look to the Internet, not the radio, for their music.
“Our assumption is that people who are dedicated to this really eclectic, unique station will keep tuning in,” said Mark Wollaeger, Vanderbilt University English professor and chair of the Vanderbilt Student Communications board of directors.
For the time being, the station will be broadcasting only automated music, with no live DJs — a move Wollaeger said would give Vanderbilt Student Communications a chance to renovate the studios.
By September, WRVU will be broadcasting in high-definition, which will allow drivers with HD radios to pick up the station in their cars once again.
“The change, in the long term, will not seem as great as it does right now,” he said.
The proceeds from the sale will be used to establish an endowment to support student communications and Vanderbilt’s campus media.
Heartbroken WRVU fans greeted news of the sale like a death in the family.
“It’s completely shocking. It happened so quickly,” said Sharon Scott, a former WRVU DJ and station general manager, who helped organize WRVU Friends and Family, a group that has worked for months to stop the rumored sale.
“WRVU gives — or gave, I need to start watching my tenses — the community a voice in Nashville.”
PUNK TO PERSIAN
WRVU has been a constant presence at the bottom of the FM radio dial for generations of Nashvillians. At any given time, listeners might tune in and hear “everything from punk to Persian to the Delta blues” playing, Scott said.
Or just a Vanderbilt student or professor speaking across the radio waves, getting a message out to the community.
For WPLN President Rob Gordon, the sale was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The public radio station had long wanted to separate its news and music offerings, but there were no open spaces on Nashville’s radio dial.
“We’d have people call in and say, ‘It’s Saturday afternoon, I was wondering if Mubarak had resigned and I turn on WPLN and you’re playing opera,’ ” Gordon said.
When rumors of a potential sale of the Vanderbilt station began circulating two years ago, “We got very excited. We just viewed it as an opportunity.”
Vanderbilt Student Communications has been floating the idea of a radio station sale for more than a year, but no one knew who the buyer would be.
Only another nonprofit could buy a campus station, and several other campus radio stations nationwide, including at universities in San Francisco and Tulsa, have been sold to Christian broadcasting stations.
WPLN has an agreement to purchase with the VSC and can file with the Federal Communications Commission anytime in the next 18 months.
When that happens, the public will have the opportunity to share their opinions, or protest the sale, directly to federal regulators.
Meanwhile, fans of the campus radio station are still reeling from their loss, and furious at the university that they feel cut them out of the decision-making process.
Over the past year, supporters have rallied, protested, held fundraisers and secured endorsements from celebrities such as Chuck D of Public Enemy.
“I’m physically sickened,” said WRVU DJ Ashley Crownover, whose show, Set Records to Stun, features the lesser-known musical gems of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.
“I’ve been listening to WRVU since I was in my teens. It seems so impossible that this could happen in a place called Music City.”