I do not support the possible sale of WRVU’s broadcast license. I believe that if Vanderbilt Student Communications lets our student radio station go, they will have abandoned an invaluable media asset with deep historical and contemporary value.
But there is no getting around the fact that WRVU’s executive staff have handled the proposed sale poorly. When the sale was announced in September, I assumed they would use the opportunity to ally with other organizations and to network with students and alumni in an effort to launch a concerted anti-sale effort. It breaks my heart to say it because there are a lot of great people involved with WRVU, but that’s not how it has played out.
Certain things have been done well. An open letter signed by Blair School of Music faculty and students speaks about the importance of maintaining WRVU’s broadcast license, which stands in contrast to Chancellor Zeppos’ policy of silence. A Facebook page with more than 6000 members and a petition with over 1000 signatures demonstrate that the radio station has an eager audience. But the execution of their anti-sale campaign reveals an inability or unwillingness to mobilize these supporters.
Even more mortifying than the half-truths and innuendo against Vanderbilt Student Communications have been the communication problems. As ORBIS has tried to talk with WRVU leadership, relations with the executive staff and disc jockeys have alternated between incompetence and blatant disrespect. A few non-Vanderbilt community DJs have been helpful, but they are unwilling to go on the record because they are afraid their shows will be canceled.
For a sense of perspective, the ORBIS office is located on the same hallway as WRVU. Their door is a few paces from ours. But phone calls aren’t returned and the students we flag down in the hallway all have excuses not to comment. Emailing the executive staff is like emailing a black hole.
Nobody could appreciate the laziness that permeates WRVU better than ORBIS’ infinitely patient features editor Meghan O’Neill, who has worked dutifully to cover the anti-sale movement for the duration of this academic year, starting at the press conference in September at which Mark Wollaeger confirmed the rumors. The behavior O’Neill has dealt with from WRVU staffers has spanned from the baffling (the only time I am aware of the executive staff taking initiative was when somebody crinkled up a sloppy handwritten note and pushed it under our door) to the downright rude.
So what gives? Sometimes I’ve wondered if they actually want the station to be sold, that their opposition is some kind of meta-performance art on how not to run a protest. But what’s closer to the truth, I think, is that they are just woefully unprepared. The leadership’s rock and roll mentality hasn’t prepared them to run a protest, never mind while running a radio station.
It’s a reality that WRVU general manager Victor Clarke acknowledges. He took the position when Mikil Taylor stepped down, he explained to me, because there simply was nobody else to do the job. And while he’s tried his best, he’s found that the apathetic, party-style atmosphere at the station makes it difficult to strong-arm anybody into taking responsibility.
WRVU is staffed by children playing a grown-ups’ game. And even if there were not a potential sale to fight against, that is an unacceptable situation for our storied Music City radio station. Vanderbilt Student Communications hasn’t acknowledged it, but there is no question in my mind that the profound incompetence of the station’s leadership played a role in the decision to nix the broadcast license.
Now, I deeply disagree with director of student media Chris Carroll’s vision for consolidated student media at Vanderbilt. I feel that there are too many unanswered questions about the budget for the station to be sold and that the lack of transparency that has characterized the potential sale has shamed Vanderbilt’s relationship with its students. But unless WRVU is taken over by a coalition of competent, music-loving students, they don’t have a chance.