Another College Station Bids Farewell

Over at Arcane Radio Trivia, Jose Fritz laments the passing of college station WAWL on Dec. 10, formerly broadcasting from Chattanooga State Technical Community College . The college sold off its license for 91.5 FM for $1.5 million to Christian broadcaster Family Life Radio, based out of Tuscon, AZ.

$1.5 mil is a pretty big chunk of change for just one station in the 106th largest radio market in the US. I think that price conveys the relative scarcity of prime, full-power noncommercial channel space, even compared to commercial stations. It also demonstrates how the evangelical religious broadcast business is booming despite the down economy (perhaps even because of the down economy, feeding on people’s desperation).

Unfortunately, Family Life Radio’s gain is Chattanooga’s loss, as the city has a source for radio programming in touch with the local community and culture replaced with cookie-cutter, satellite-fed godcasting. What’s all the more rotten is that much of Family Life Radio’s programming is already heard on several other stations in the Chattanooga area, whether its contemporary Christian music or segments from Focus on the Family.

Chattanooga resident Paul Jackson articulates the loss in an opinion piece for the Chattanoogan:

when a 20-year non-commercial staple in this market that provides programming not offered by any other outlet (nor has any other throughout most of its existence) is simply auctioned and sold to a special interest group, could this raise a question of the importance of radio serving the interests of the community?

This is a side of deregulation and the resultant consolidation of the radio dial that often goes unnoticed. The growth market in Christian satellite-fed radio has caused the market value of noncommercial licenses to bubble in an area of broadcasting that was never intended to be subject to the so-called free market. The Clear Channelization of noncommercial radio has been slower than consolidation in commercial radio, but will only get worse as institutional owners of noncommercial college, educational and community-service stations strain under the bad economy, tempted by the opportunity for a quick buck obtained by selling off their radio licenses.

I might be more forgiving if Family Life Radio were at least going to broadcast a healthy schedule of locally-originated programming, supplemented by syndicated shows. But I see no indication that any of FLR’s station air much in the way of locally produced content — it’s the same lineup in Tuscon as in Lubbock as in Kalamazoo.

Now, Family Life Radio is still just shy of the 20-station limit that was in place before 1996, but the ability to buy a station in Chattanooga for $1.5 million indicates that this godcaster is ready to blow past that benchmark as long as it can find willing sellers. And once it does, another community will lose a local voice in favor of another homogenized godcaster from a 24/7 satellite signal.


One response to “Another College Station Bids Farewell”

  1. Jose Fritz Avatar

    It’s really revolting isn’t it?

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