Let Your Voice Be Heard about WLFM
For those of you who may not have heard, Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin has shut down the FM signal for campus radio station WLFM, citing as an excuse the high cost of converting to a digital signal (something required as a carrier of Wisconsin Public Radio) and the steady deterioration of equipment. Although a press release was issued back in June, it was generally done under the cover of darkness, with little media coverage following until the station finally went off the air last week. The station will continue to operate its broadband webcasting, but this change eliminates the possibility for any people without fast internet connections to listen to the station.
The station has served an important community function since it first went on the air almost fifty years ago as one of the few places where voices from the community could be heard and where music not in the payola-based rotation of WIXX could get airplay, and now that it gone. Among the station's programs were shows directed at the Hispanic and Hmong communities, many of whom have no access to an internet connection. And, of course, we all know the importance of the radio station to Lawrence's annual Great Midwest Trivia Contest. University officials claim the elimination of the FM will not hurt the trivia contest, but we all know this is patently ridiculous. For one, the time delay between real time and webcast time will mess up the timing of the questions. At this time, the webcast is only capable of handling 120 connections at one time - 60 on-campus and 60 off-campus - which is far below what would be necessary for the contest. I can only imagine the headaches this will cause all involved.
In my personal life, WLFM was important in introducing me to music in high school that I never would have heard elsewhere, an opportunity lost for coming generations of Appletonians. I used to spend weeknights and weekends camped out in my room listening to the station and soaking up all the music not getting played on the top-40, country, and classic rock stations which dominate the Fox Valley airwaves.
At this point, it may be too late to save WLFM's FM signal, as the equipment has been sold and transfer of the 91.1 frequency locally is being conducted pending approval by the FCC, but it's not too late to let Lawrence University President Jill Beck and other university officials how you feel about their decision. I received an email today from Lawrence grad and former station manager Jim Daley, which I'm going to post in full here and on my main website. I encourage all of you to at least sign the petition even if you are unable to write a letter personally. Also, if you know anyone else interested in passing the word, feel free to copy the email text included below and forward it on. Thanks for your help!
My name is Jim Daley, and I'm a Lawrence alumnus (class of 2000) and a former DJ and station manager of WLFM. Some of you may have already heard this news, but for those of you who haven't, Lawrence decided to shut down WLFM's FM signal and convert the station to an internet-only broadcast this past summer. You can view information regarding this decision here:
Jill Beck's email announcing the shutdown:
Lawrence press release:
Here is an article from the Appleton Post-Crescent about it:
In the press release, Lawrence argues that shutting down the FM signal was necessary because upgrading WLFM to a digital station would be prohibitively expensive. While this is true, it is a very misleading argument. Maintaining WLFM as an FM station apart from Wisconsin Public Radio, which would not require a digital upgrade, would in fact be very affordable. After browsing through numerous college radio web sites, I could not find a single station that receives an annual budget from its parent university that costs more than the tuition of a single Lawrence student. In fact, many operate on less than $10,000 annually. Virtually all college stations run on old equipment, yet the press release cites this as another reason why Lawrence decided to shut down the FM signal. WLFM's equipment was working fine when the decision was made, so I am not convinced by this argument. If the equipment were to fail, web sites like eBay and craigslist offer an inexpensive way to purchase used radio equipment, which could have been financed by fund raisers. It seems to me that Lawrence has manufactured a reason to shut down the station in order to cut a comparatively tiny portion of their budget. What really makes me angry is the fact that this decision was made without student input. It was implemented while students were off campus over the summer, and therefore allowed the University to avoid any opposition or protest. This is not the way a college should treat the students whose tuition pays for its operation. They deserve a lot more respect.
When WLFM first began broadcasting on the internet in addition to its FM signal, I applauded the decision. Broadcasting exclusively over the internet will cause problems, however. It will greatly limit the support that WLFM receives from record labels and could cause major technical difficulties in running the annual Midwest Trivia Contest, a long-standing tradition that brings Lawrence national recognition.
At this point, getting WLFM back on the air seems unlikely. But it's not too late to let Lawrence know how we feel about their unfortunate decision. An active response from the Lawrence and Appleton communities could encourage the administration to rethink their decision-making processes, should they need to trim a tiny fraction of their budget in the future. I have written letters to President Jill Beck and Dean of Student Activities Paul Shrode expressing my disappointment with their decision. I have also written letters to the editor of the Lawrentian and the Appleton Post-Crescent. If you could take a few minutes of your time to do something similar, I would greatly appreciate it. If you don't have time to write your own letter, feel free to simply paste your name into the short letter I've prepared and send it to Jill Beck (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Paul Shrode (email@example.com). Don't worry, this is not a violation of the Lawrence Honor Code. :) Here is the letter:
An even easier way to help is to sign this internet petition I set up. I'll let it collect signatures for a couple weeks or so and then deliver it to Jill Beck and Paul Shrode. Your support is greatly appreciated! Here's a link to the petition:
Finally, please forward this message to anyone you know who might be interested and willing to help. My initial email is going to a hodgepodge list of email address that I got mostly by looking up the names of former DJs' from 1997-2000 on the Lawrence alumni web site. I'm also sending it to names I found on the current WLFM web site and the current Trivia homepage. Anyone who is in contact with past Trivia Masters, DJs from other time periods, or Appleton residents who enjoyed listening to WLFM, please forward this on! I am hoping to time it with the arrival of students for the 2005-06 school year at Lawrence, and I would love to get things circulating as quickly as possible. Thanks!
Former WLFM DJ and Station Manager
Lawrence Class of 2000