On August 9, Vanderbilt Student Communications (VSC) filed paperwork with the FCC indicating their desire to assign the license for former college radio station WRVU 91.1 FM (now known as WFCL) to Nashville Public Radio.
Ever since June, 2011, Nashville Public Radio has been operating the station after VSC entered into an agreement with the local broadcaster. At the same time, VSC changed the station’s call letters to WFCL and indicated that it planned to sell the license. Vanderbilt University students and community volunteers were taken off the air and locked out of the station pending a transition to an online-only version of WRVU.
Nashville Public Radio, which also holds licenses for WPLN-AM, WPLN-FM, WHRS-FM, and WTML-FM, has been using WFCL as an outlet for classical music broadcasts under the brand name Classical 91 One since that time.
Ever since rumors of a WRVU sale surfaced, fans and alumni from the college radio station have been working to fight the loss of terrestrial radio at Vanderbilt. A little over a month ago, on July 2, 2012, the non-profit group WRVU Friends and Family filed a Petition to Deny WFCL’s FCC license renewal, claiming that VSC lacks the authority to not only sell the station’s license, but also lacks the authority to lease out airtime to an outside group. VSC is a non-profit which runs not only the student radio station at Vanderbilt, but all other student media, including the student newspaper, yearbook, and television station.
Additionally, the Petition to Deny argues that VSC has committed an “improper relinquishment of control” of the station by allowing Nashville Public Radio to control programming.
Although the WFCL license was set to expire on August 1, 2012, the FCC has yet to post its ruling on the license renewal application.
Now that the paperwork has been filed regarding the license assignment, we are getting a first look at the terms of the deal between VSC and Nashville Public Radio. According to the Asset Purchase Agreement (dated June 7, 2011), the purchase price is $3,350,000. During the past year, Nashville Public Radio has been working to raise sufficient funds in order to purchase the station’s license. According to a statement included in last week’s FCC filing, “Nashville Public Radio has been and continues to be engaged in a campaign to receive funds for the acquisition of Station WFCL, Nashville Public Radio’s Endowment fund currently has adequate available funds for the purchase of WFCL. In addition Nashville Public Radio has operating reserves that are sufficient to cover the operating expenses of WFCL for more than 3 months.”
According to a Management and Programming Agreement dated June 7, 2011, Nashville Public Radio agreed to “program the Station for 24 hours per day, seven days per week with a classical music public radio station format…” during the period of time before the license assignment was finalized.
In light of the recent Consent Decree related to improper payments in exchange for the leasing of KUSF 90.3 FM by Classical Public Radio Network, it’s interesting to note that the WFCL agreement provides for no additional “consideration” to VSC in exchange for airtime. According to the agreement:
“The parties acknowledge that their respective undertakings and commitments herein, designed to ensure the provision of high quality public radio programming on the Station, and their respective agreements to execute, deliver and perform the Asset Purchase Agreement, constitute sufficient consideration for this Agreement.”
Although there is no specific “consideration” mentioned, the agreement does state that Nashville Public Radio will reimburse VSC for $3,735 a month in expenses. The breakdown of monthly expenses includes $405 for transmitter site lease, $500 for contract engineer retainer, $30 for nitrogen cylinder rental (transmission line), $300 for insurance, and $2500 for personnel.
Additionally, the agreement allows Nashville Public Radio to fundraise. The agreement states,
“Manager will conduct fundraising activities for the benefit of the Station, including but not limited to membership drives and program underwriting, in such manner as to seek to raise sufficient funds for Manager to professionally manage and operate the Station in continuing consultation with Licensee. Manager shall conduct all fundraising so as to comply with the rules and policies of the FCC applicable to noncommercial educational broadcast stations, including (with specificity) Section 73.503(d) of the FCC rules, and with IRS requirements for documenting charitable contributions.”
It was also interesting to see that the agreement includes a stipulation that new call letters would be available for use by Nashville Public Radio by June 8, 2011. The agreement states, “The parties agree that the call letters of the Station during the Term of this Agreement shall be WFCL (or, if WFCL is not available, call letters mutually agreed to by the parties other than WRVU). Licensee shall cooperate with Manager to make such timely filings with the FCC as are reasonably necessary to enable the call letters WFCL to be used as of the Commencement Date.”
In fact, VSC requested the call letter change on June 1, 2011, nearly a week before informing WRVU DJs and volunteers. A reporter noticed the call letter change in the FCC database and alerted WRVU staffers on June 6, 2011.
WRVU Friends and Family’s attorney Michael Couzens told me that they are currently “studying” the proposed license assignment. He also added that Nashville Public Radio is “the dominant NPR member station in Nashville,” and stated, “I don’t think anyone feels they are bad folks. But they have a robust local station group already. What do they need this for? Why would they ever want to be party to the destruction of college radio?”