The WBRU board of directors will seek a buyer for the radio station’s commercial license and assets, according to an email to WBRU alumni from the station’s General Manager Kishanee Haththotuwegama.
The station hopes to shift its focus to a new form of “emerging media,” the email said. The University offered WBRU a line of credit which the station may draw upon to remain fully operational as they transition to a new model, according to the email.
The station has attempted to remain viable amidst national decline in independent radio stations. In a Station Membership meeting this weekend, members came to a “straw poll” agreement with the board after “exploring a wide range of financial options,” the email read. It will officially vote on the resolution on March 11.
This is not the first time the station’s existence has been threatened. In 1992, the Board of Trustees moved to sell the station to NPR, according to a Facebook post written by WBRU alums. In response to the actions of 1992, students and alums petitioned the University to cosign a loan to sustain the station, which it paid off in three years. The station also retrained the sales department, reshaped the programming and replaced many members of the Board at that time.
WBRU alums again banded together on Facebook in a move to prevent the most recent sale proposal.
In a letter to all WBRU alums, several former station members from between the classes of 1974 and 1999 wrote that they disagreed with the reasoning behind the sale. While they agreed that the radio profits have declined in the last several years, they argue that WBRU’s revenues have plummeted far below the national average. “Despite this, the Board has done nothing to change or enhance the sales department, and the same sales manager remains in place,” write the alums in the post.
The alums also argue the station has not made any efforts to evolve WBRU digitally and that the station still retains strong branding and reach. “The radio station can survive, and even thrive with a stronger sales effort,” the alums wrote.
In the post, the alums added that with the line of credit extended from the University, there should not be a push to sell immediately. Instead, “a sale could happen anytime in the next several years. Why the rush to trash a strong asset?” the post demanded.
In Haththotuwegama’s email, she called on alumni to offer new ideas on what its new approach to emerging media might look like.
WBRU started in 1936 under the leadership of two Brown students. In 1966 the University helped the station buy an FM license — then worth $30,000 and later valued between $12 and $15 million in 2006 — and financed WBRU-FM to become a nonprofit corporation and legally separate from Brown. As of 2006, the station budgeted an annual operating cost of $2.7 million and employed ten full-time paid staffers on top of their unpaid student workers, according to an article in the Brown Alumni magazine.