By Adam R Jacobson
RBR + TVBR
Valentine’s Day came with a lot of broken hearts for listeners of a noncommercial Adult Alternative station in the Cincinnati market.
In an Instagram post made late Tuesday afternoon, Northern Kentucky University has authorized the sale of Class C3 WNKU-FM 89.7 in Highland Heights, Ky., and Class CO 100kw WNKE-FM 104.1 in New Boston, Ohio, which reaches the Ashland, OH-Huntington, WV Nielsen Audio market.
WNKU is being sold to Bible Broadcasting Corp. for $1.9 million, while in a separate transaction WNKE is being transferred to Educational Media Foundation for $700,000. EMF owns the nationally distributed KLOVE and Air 1 Contemporary Christian music formats.
A grass-roots effort to keep WNKU’s unique programming on the air in the Cincinnati region is already underway.
The first target for CincyMusic: WNKU — Class B 34kw WNKN-FM 105.9 in Middletown, Ohio, an NKU-owned station which reaches most of Cincinnati and all of the Dayton market that, like WNKE, has been a simulcast partner of WNKU. The university has been mum on its plans for WNKN.
In the 3 p.m. Eastern hour on Tuesday (2/14), WNKU took to its Instagram account to confirm the sales of WNKU and WNKE; a Form 314 filing is expected to appear this week at the FCC.
WNKU explained the station sales, saying, “In these challenging financial times for higher education, NKU is no longer able to subsidize the operations of WNKU. We expect that the WNKU and WNKE frequencies will be sold to new owners and that the FCC will approve the sale. Sometime in the coming months, once the sales are finalized, WNKU and its affiliated stations will go off the air.
Until that process is complete, our promise to you is that we will continue to discover new music, support local music, and bring you new discoveries every day.”
Thus, it appears WNKN is also in peril.
Meanwhile, traffic to the WNKU.org website temporarily prevented visitors from accessing content in the early evening hours. By 10:30 p.m., a note from acting General Manager Aaron Sharpe largely mirrored the Instagram post. Sharpe added, “Thank you for inviting us into your homes and your lives for the past three decades. It has been an honor to bring public radio and local music to the airwaves with your support, and we have enjoyed every minute of it.”
Monthly contributors with auto-pay set up were assured that all membership pledge dues have been cancelled, effective immediately.
WNKU is widely known in the region for its cutting-edge format that ranged from U2 and Ryan Adams to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The XX in the 10 p.m. hour on Tuesday (2/14); its heritage is tied, in part, to the former WOXY-FM “97X” in nearby Oxford, Ohio, which broadcast from 1983 until 2004 and was made famous in the 1988 film “Rain Man.” However, WNKU’s programming dates to its 1985 debut.
Discussion about the future of WNKU and its two simulcast partners heated up in April 2016, when the university indicated that it was considering a sale.
Save WNKU, a coalition of local members of the music, arts, and business community, has rallied to get university officials to avoid a sale.
These efforts ultimately failed with yesterday’s decision by NKU to move forward with the sale.
After the university board approved the sale, Rich Boehne, chair of the Board of Regents, commented, “It’s painful to let go of something that has reflected so well on our deep commitment to this region. Hearing those call letters for me personally, the voices, and, of course, the music, has helped weave the NKU brand into our core geographic market. However, the media world is shifting dramatically and these terrestrial voices no longer provide access to our most important constituents.”
As of Tuesday evening, some 3,565 people had signed a petition seeking to save the station.
It is unclear as to what Save WNKU plans to do next; it has not suggested that it take the route of KNKX-FM 88.5 in Seattle, the former KPLU. But, Save WNKU may wish to connect with a group seeking to save WUMD-FM 89.3 in the New Bedford, Mass., market.
On Jan. 6, RBR + TVBR reported that The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth has sold a Class B1 facility covering the New Bedford-Fall River, Mass., market.
In a deal valued at $1.5 million, UMass Dartmouth is selling WUMD-FM 89.3 in North Dartmouth, Mass., to Rhode Island Public Radio.
The deal included a host of conditions, including the migration of WUMD’s current student-run programming to an internet-only operation and opportunities for undergraduates at the university to learn about careers in radio.
That’s not good enough for some WUMD volunteers, who want the station saved. A #SaveWUMD hashtag has been unleashed by a group of individuals who seek to “Help keep WUMD from being removed from the airwaves and replaced by more npr!” A Facebook page has been established to help the activists in their cause.
“We had hoped that the Board of Regents at Northern Kentucky University would listen to us,” CincyMusic noted on its website late Tuesday. “WNKU is a champion for our region — for our music, our arts and culture, our neighborhoods, and our community organizations. WNKU celebrates diversity, brings people together, and encourages community engagement as we do. It’s our heart in the Cincinnati music community, and today our heart has been broken.”
RBR + TVBR OBSERVATION: We feel you, Cincinnati. Not so long ago, “Classical South Florida” suddenly vanished from the airwaves in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Naples and Fort Myers — replaced by the Contemporary Christian “KLove” network. While Educational Media Foundation had every right to purchase what had been WKCP-FM 89.7, and two simulcast partners, it has left South Florida, Southwest Florida and the Palm Beaches without any fine arts programming on the radio dial. Now, Cincinnati is set to lose a station we absolutely love, as it can be heard in Dayton, where RBR
+ TVBR parent Streamline Publishing has a presence. The best-case scenario, of course, would be to get Southern Ohio and Northern Kentucky lovers of WNKU to do what was done in Seattle, and create a non-profit that can purchase WNKN and keep the legacy of WNKU alive. The WNKN signal is killer, and easily scans up everywhere from Covington, Ky., to Mason, Hamilton, Dayton, Oxford, and Springfield, Ohio. WNKN can also be picked up well west of Richmond, Ind., on the drive to Indianapolis. With the right community support — and financial backing — there is still hope for fans of WNKU’s programming and for the university to reap the financial benefits of the right deal. Let the deal involve CincyMusic.org. Without WNKU, another market not only loses an important outlet for music not heard elsewhere on FM but only furthers the mantra of Spotify, Pandora, Tidal Music and every podcaster and internet-only service provider that radio is a thing of the past. That’s not true … but the disappearance of WNKU will only make more people think of it as the truth.