For as long as current seniors have been at Brown, the running joke amongst WBRU staffers has been how much they hate listening to the station’s music itself. The looping streams of Coldplay and Red Hot Chili Peppers might have brought in Providence’s alternative music-seekers for the last several years, but the records hadn’t reflected the musical tastes of the Brown community for some time.
In the midst of declining profits and a collapsing radio market, WBRU decided to sell its terrestrial signal to the highest bidder this summer. And while the sale itself was fraught with contention and internal drama, the Brown community can also view it as a way to move forward. As WBRU takes the plunge into online-only streaming content, the digital pivot offers an exciting opportunity for students to reshape the station without pressure from ratings and advertisers. We’re anticipating music that more closely aligns with what staffers listen to themselves, rather than what they played to allay advertisers’ concerns. WBRU.com, where the station will host its now digital-only content, shows signs that a new mobile application may soon be on the way. Some students are working on creating a news podcast. And WBRU doesn’t show any signs of downsizing, as it certainly hasn’t slowed its recruitment efforts (as at least one Herald editorial board member who never got removed from their listserv can tell you).
Switching over to digital-only content won’t be easy, though — whether or not WBRU can maintain the same advertising to keep the budget at similar levels as past years remains to be seen. While the $5.63 million sale does provide the station with immediate funds (as well as plenty to start an endowment to fund the station for years onward), advertising will be necessary if the station projects a long-term future for itself. How they carve out a spot for themselves within the competition for advertising remains to be seen, especially as students are quicker to turn to their own playlists on Spotify than WBRU’s.
As editors of The Herald, we can’t help but be huge fans of college media in all its forms. But amidst the invaluable professional experience and mentorship, many of us have fallen on hard times, spurring the shift toward digital platforms where competition for advertising is stiff. Still, digital is where media needs to get creative right now. WBRU has prided itself as an organization at the forefront of independent media, but they can only be at the forefront if they’re actively working to pursue new projects. That’s why we see the sale as a positive development — now that WBRU is no longer constrained to limitations of a terrestrial signal, it can devote its staff’s energy to developing solutions for its new platforms.
While WBRU’s shift may have been forced and unpleasant for some current staffers, we hope they also see it as an opportunity. WBRU made a name for itself as one of the first independent radio stations. We’re excited to see where it takes independent radio next, and we hope you’ll join us in listening.
Editorials are written by The Herald’s 127th editorial board: Lauren Aratani ’18, Matthew Brownsword ’18, Rebecca Ellis ’18 and Kate Talerico ’18.