At 2:22 p.m. on 2/22/02 — tomorrow — UW will join the ranks of every other Big Ten university: We will get a student radio station you can actually listen to on your radio.
Broadcasting on 91.7 FM, WSUM will feature multiple student-hosted and -produced radio programs ranging from hip-hop music to community talk. Its diverse schedule promises to be a much-needed addition to Madison’s bland commercial-radio lineup.
WSUM has achieved its primary goal, and for that we congratulate it. But we hope the station’s leaders do not give up on long-term goals altogether. Once the station achieves its immediate objective of finding its niche on the airwaves and adjusts to being a broadcast station, the station’s managers should look to untangle themselves from the leash of student-government financing.
As recent history and common sense have taught us, being financially dependent on student government could limit student radio’s on-air freedom. It is easy to imagine future student-government representatives objecting to politically incorrect on-air personalities or criticism of its policies, and student government has in the past tied money to political objectives.
Similarly, student government’s high turnover rate makes long-term planning virtually impossible, as WSUM discovered in the late 1990s. One year, SSFC members told WSUM to become 50 percent financially independent, and then — after the committee was overrun by leftist extremists — the station manager was told WSUM would receive no student funds if it accepted outside contributions from corporations.
We recognize this will take time. WSUM carries a noncommercial educational license (similar to public radio), which forbids the station to broadcast commercial advertisements and makes financial independence difficult.
However, opportunities do exist in underwriting and tax-exempt donations. Showing great foresight, WSUM’s management already has in place the infrastructure to pursue these opportunities through the “Friends of Madison Student Radio” foundation. With WSUM about to go live, the organization is well positioned to raise significant private money from the Madison community.
Friday’s launch also represents the diligent work of dozens of individuals. First on the list is UW journalism professor James Hoyt, who began his student radio work in 1973.
Students are also indebted to David Black, the station’s general manager since 1994, whose outstanding vision and personal sacrifice shepherded the campaign for a radio tower. County Board members who fought for said tower were key. Most importantly, WSUM would have never reached this point without the hundreds of students who passed through the WSUM online studio without an over-the-air audience.
Tomorrow is an exciting day for UW in general and student media in particular. We enthusiastically welcome WSUM to the air and hope it establishes the foundation for years of enjoyment and information.