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Radio AM to FM: May 28, 1999

Educational Radio? Right.

When the Federal Communications Commission first authorized broadcasting on the FM band, it set aside a portion of the band for noncommercial educational use. The intent was to allow colleges and universities to broadcast educational programming and to create radio "laboratories" or training grounds for students, as well as to give local citizens a voice.

That was the intent. Originally, it worked. In Southern California, universities and colleges had broadcast stations that fully involved students (USC, CSULB, UCI and Pasadena City College, among others). Even Torrance Unified had a 10-watt station at North High that would be broadcasting today had the school not been ignorant of the rules and let the license expire.

Then came the conglomerates. Public radio conglomerates, that is, that took control of most local college stations and pushed the students out the door in favor of paid professionals. KUSC, KLON, KCRW, KCSN and KPCC are all stations that are run by colleges and located on college campuses that have nothing but disdain for anything related to college students.

Now I'm not complaining about the programming: many of the above named stations actually run good programs or formats. But being licensed to a college means that students should be involved. Yet of all the local "college" stations, only KXLU (Loyola Marymount) and KUCI (UC Irvine) are student-run; the others are nothing more than subsidized public entities that only allow students in to do the most menial of jobs.

So I have no sympathy for KPCC manager Larry Mantle, who is "frustrated" by station trustees that want to explore options other than essentially giving their license away to Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) in exchange for more highly-paid professionals running the "college" station.

Oh, sure, the deal isn't bad on the surface: a new trustees board would oversee the transferred license, MPR would provide cash and programming, and a challenge to National Public Radio might emerge.

But there's a problem: the college loses direct control of the station, which still allows some local citizens to air their own programming, and the students lose out even more, since the only local positions left will most likely be getting coffee for the professional satellite crew (oh, yes, say goodbye to any local programing once the ball gets rolling). Currently students are occasionally allowed to run equipment themselves; of course they aren't allowed near a microphone.

In my opinion, if the trustees decide to go along with Mantle's plan, the broadcast license should be stripped and given to an organization that understands the intent of college radio. MPR should be forced to reckon with market forces and buy its own station if it wants to break into Southern California so badly. And Mantle should recognize that even his current version of KPCC is far so far removed from the intent of "educational broadcasting" that if he and his paid staff want to resign, they should do so immediately. At least then some students might get a chance to be involved.


Copyright © 1999 Richard Wagoner and The Copley Press.

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