It was a weird world in 2016, and 2017 is showing to be weirder still. It’s a time where outright lies are called alternative facts, and your local friendly paper is owned by a major international media conglomerate. They all push a view, but who’s standing up for you and not someone’s profit margin? There has never been a more important time for independent public broadcasting, driven by small donations and connected to local issues.
RIPR agreed to purchase the signal of WMUD, a long-running college radio station from UMass Dartmouth. This is a win-win situation that will benefit the students at the college radio station and the people of Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts. This deal will finally gift RIPR with a unified broadcast signal that will cover the entire state, both literally and metaphorically.
RIPR has the opportunity to step up its journalism game. It should emphasize local stories and its position in standing up for Rhode Island values in the age of Trump. Even though we’re a blue state, look at some of the local headlines since the last presidential elections. Our senators have stoked controversy by not unilaterally opposing the new cabinet picks. There have been multiple demonstrations, workshops and mass political meetings on a scale not seen since the Vietnam era. There are still numerous problems and local controversial topics that need a strong independent media to cover them. RIPR is public broadcasting; they’re funded almost entirely by donations from the public and government funds.
This deal will only amplify the efforts of traditional college radio. The university has pledged to use the $1.5 million it’s receiving from the sale to endow scholarships and modernize the old radio studio. Scholarships will go a long way toward reducing the debt of students at UMass Dartmouth. College these days, including state schools, is enormously expensive for students and any assistance in scholarships or funds to reduce student debt after graduation is an excellent public service. RIPR has also agreed to provide internship and other academic opportunities going forward.
The funds also will be used to provide WMUD with a modern studio more suitable to internet broadcasting. I worked for my college’s radio station for most of my undergraduate career and we renovated our internet studio my last year there. Reinvesting in the students and pivoting college radio toward the future is key. The future is in podcasts and people consume their media a la Netflix — on demand and on their own time. This is where the future of radio broadcasting overall is going, including public broadcasting. After all, NPR podcasts are typically among the most popular nationwide.
My only concern is that the university cut the students out of this decision-making process and will do so in the future. From my own prior experience, college radio takes enormous pride and effort to own its station and its content. It’s part of the core identity in college radio. However, the funding, advertising and internship opportunities WMUD will be getting out of this outweigh these concerns. Now it’s up to the administration at UMASS Dartmouth to invest in the next generation of broadcasters.