Brown Student Radio lost its lease to the 88.1 WELH signal after 14 years of broadcasting, prompting a switch to online-only programming that started Aug. 1.
BSR previously leased the signal from the Wheeler School, a K-12 school located on Hope Street. But Wheeler "slipped in a clause" during the last contract negotiation allowing the school to terminate its contract with BSR with only 15 days notice, according to an interview with John Foley, BSR's co-publicity director, published on media blog Radio Survivor. BSR received official word July 15 that its lease was ending, according to the blog.
Wheeler made a "free-market decision," said Ryan Lester '12, BSR's station manager. Wheeler upgraded its signal to 4,000 watts a year ago, increasing its coverage to northern Rhode Island, parts of southern Rhode Island and parts of Massachusetts, making the signal potentially more appealing to larger radio stations.
After the signal upgrade, Wheeler began soliciting applications for a full-time operator — BSR had previously broadcast from evening into early morning — so BSR "pulled together to submit an application," Lester said. Though the signal 88.1FM was lost to a WRNI (Rhode Island Public Radio) station "with more political clout," Lester said BSR's application was "the only other application taken seriously."
WRNI General Manager Joe O'Connor said in an Aug. 16 Providence Journal blog post that the move would result in a "vastly strengthened" signal for the station. Radio Survivor said WRNI is looking to lease the station for the next 10 years, starting on Oct. 1.
According to a statement from the Wheeler School, "this would be a once-in-an-institution opportunity to help bring high quality and publicly vital radio programming to a broad demographic across the entire state as well as bring the strength of Rhode Island and National Public Radio programming to our frequency."
BSR's loss comes in the wake of several other recent sales of student free-form radio signals, including stations at the University of San Francisco, Rice University and Vanderbilt University, according to a June Chronicle of Higher Education article.
Lester said the transition from on-air to online programming has gone smoothly for BSR, despite some shows' dependence on the terrestrial signal. Though the station will no longer be able to receive calls from listeners, BSR will be available to anyone with access to the website.
BSR intends to obtain its own signal in the future, which would allow station operators to have more control over the programming, Lester said. While leasing from Wheeler, Lester said BSR had to maintain not only Federal Communications Commission standards but also Wheeler's stricter standards. These restrictions were a "point of tension" and a "strain on BSR," he said. Online, BSR will have only its own code of conduct to obey.
BSR receives funding from the Undergraduate Finance Board, donations and merchandise sales. Lester said the money previously set aside to lease the signal will be used to upgrade online infrastructure, audio equipment and servers to better accommodate online broadcasting.