What's up with WRVU, WPLN and the new WFCL as supporters and opponents alike plan their next move 

Coming Up Next

Coming Up Next

Trying to prevent a private corporation from selling its own broadcast license for a radio station affiliated with a private university may seem quixotic on the face of it, but you couldn't prove that by WRVU Friends and Family — the nonprofit group assembled to preserve WRVU's presence on the FM dial: "At this time, we are pursuing several different strategies to prevent the completion of the sale between VSC and WPLN," the organization's board tells the Scene via email. (Read their full remarks here.)

After all, this isn't a done deal just yet. Within 18 months of June 8, three more switches must be flipped: First, WPLN must apply to have the broadcast license for 91.1 FM transferred to them. Second, the FCC must approve the transfer of the license. Finally, WPLN must pay the balance of the $3.35 million purchase price to Vanderbilt Student Communications.

So far, WPLN has only made a $300,000 down payment. That money, according to WPLN president Rob Gordon, was paid not out of listener pledges but out of Nashville Public Radio's endowment, which was established in 1982 and has not been added to since 1997. As for the balance on their new purchase, Gordon says, "We're preparing to launch a capital campaign to raise between $4 million and $5 million to help pay the costs of acquiring Classical 91 One and make critical infrastructure and programming improvements." Unless your name is Barack Obama, that kind of money isn't exactly easy to raise, and as Gordon himself says, "We have a long way to go."

There is another shard of hope for WRVU Friends and Family and their band of rebels: Once WPLN officially requests the license transfer from the FCC, the public has a 30-day period in which to formally object. Opponents of the sale can file what is called a Petition to Deny with the FCC. "It's a very tough thing to do, and a college radio station has never succeeded" in denying a transfer, according to Joey Yang, who was station manager at Rice University's KTRU when it was sold earlier this year and switched over to — wait for it — a full-time classical music station. In terms fitting for Vanderbilt's current run in the College World Series: This is the bottom of the ninth, two outs, nobody on, with a batter who's never hit a home run facing a pitcher who's never given one up.

So if you believe WRVU can still fight its way back onto the FM lineup, you'd better have your rally cap on — WRVU Friends and Family certainly do: "We are also looking into the possibility of legal action under Tennessee law," they tell the Scene, adding that they've lawyered up and "have been pleased at the response from our fans and alumni who have careers in law." As for the long odds: "We realize that we have a challenge before us, but we aren't going to handicap our chances."

Assuming WPLN raises the money it needs — "We're very optimistic," Gordon says — and the FCC approves the license transfer — which, with history as a guide, seems likely — there is this new entity in Nashville we'll have to reckon with: an online-streaming-and-HD-radio-only version of the station we used to be able to hear on any old transistor box.

"The future of WRVU is of course yet to be written," writes Mark Wollaeger, chair of the VSC board, in an email response to the Scene. (Read his full remarks here.) WRVU staff and DJs had little to no influence on the decision to go off the air, and they are currently locked out of the station. Nevertheless, Wollaeger says they "will have VSC's financial and moral support in making the transition into a streaming and HD future."

Will it be the same WRVU? No. Does that really matter, in the end? That depends. As one commenter on Scene blog Nashville Cream put it, "WRVU is the programming and the people — not the pipes that deliver it to you." And even if not everyone has access to the new pipes, at least not yet, there's no reason to believe WRVU can't be a great online station. Just look at KEXP.

The future of radio in Nashville is yet to be written, too.  Might some of WRVU's community DJs — a number of whom were either pushed out in 2009 by the VSC's cap on DJs not affiliated with Vanderbilt, or have chosen to leave since the sale was announced — end up on WPLN or the new WFCL? "Given our formats, it's not immediately obvious how we might engage WRVU's radio hosts," WPLN's Gordon says, "but we would be happy to explore and talk, especially a little later on."

And with WPLN completing its shift to an all-news format heavy on NPR programming, that means another frequency opens up new possibilities. "We are also considering the future of WPLN-1430 AM, how it can best serve the community," Gordon says, "and I would like to make it part of the conversation." So while the vaunted WRVU may never transmit its rousing, inspiring, maddening, format-defying mix at 91.1 megahertz again, the conversation about what will yet zip across the airwaves of Music City remains very much open.

Email editor@nashvillescene.com.

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Quotes and memories of WRVU

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