Friday, December 14, 2012

WPTC Fights to Survive

I recently heard that 88.1 WPTC was in danger of being closed down.  The  Pennsylvania College of Technology was mulling a decision that could mean the end of the 490-watt small town FM station. Elliot Strickland, Chief Student Affairs Officer said “If we choose not to run it anymore, we would look to sell the equipment, our FCC license, those kinds of things.” Radio Survivor has also covered this story here.

The college radio community has lost a significant number of stations over the last few years and it's becoming an increasingly touchy subject. But media is changing, and even curmudgeons like myself can recognize that. I decided to reach out to Professor Brad Nason, Associate Professor of Media Arts and faculty adviser to WPTC and get some first hand information. He was very forthcoming that interview is below:

1. When did you first learn that WPCT was in peril? 
The college announced the end of the Mass Media Communication program in August 2011. At the time, I don’t think the administration made the connection that the radio station and the academic program were two different issues, but I knew at that point that the station could possibly be closed.

 2. What's their impetus for closing the station? 
I assume it’s strictly a financial issue. When the academic program officially ends next May, the station will no longer have a home. And the bottom line is it’s probably less expensive to get rid of the station than to keep it.

3. Do you think that's valid in any way?
 I mean, obviously, money is an issue. But I think a college radio station has value—to the students, to the campus and to the larger community—that goes beyond the bottom line. I’ve argued that you can continue to run a station that exists as a student club or a community organization much more cheaply than you can a facility that’s part of an academic program, in which you need the best and most-recent equipment to train students.

4. Has the timing of that news helped or hurt your cause? 
It wasn’t like this was a sudden announcement. I think the administration has gradually come to understand that, unlike a metal shop that you can just close, a radio station has a license and uses public airwaves. You just can’t unplug it and walk away.

5. Is Penn College management conflicted on this at all or are they full steam ahead? 
I don’t hear too much from administrators on their decision-making process. I do know the college is trying to sell the station and from my experience since this process began, I’d bet that if a buyer comes forth, the station will be sold.

6. What has been the response like inside WPTC? 
The few remaining students in the program have embraced it as a cause almost. The courses that required students to work at the station have been phased out, but this final group of students has already volunteered to do airshifts and production work next semester. The jazz volunteers feel letdown, certainly. I’ve known some of those guys even before I came to Penn College.

7.  How has the student body and the community reacted as a whole? 
From the petition drive the students started, we’ve received a number of supportive comments—from alumni, current students and others, some of whom I was surprised to learn listen to the station. The feedback from the community, particularly about our jazz programming, has been very supportive.

8. Are they have any success pushing back? 
Hard to tell. You’d have to ask the administration whether that’s a factor.

9. How long have you been with WPTC? 
I came to Penn College in 1995 as a faculty member who was also responsible for managing the station. I started the weekend programming with volunteers in January of 1996 and we began full-time summer programming, also with volunteers, in the early 2000s. My role with the station ends in May. I will continue to teach here in the Communication/Literature Department.

10. How are the odds looking at the moment? 
While I would love to see the station continue broadcasting, I’d be surprised if Penn College has a radio station a year from now. I’ve suggested that they hire someone part-time to run the station as a community/club organization, but that’s out of my hands.

11. How can people help WPTC?
Probably the best ways are to sign the petition (on our website at: and/or contact the provost, Dr. Paul Starkey, or the president, Dr. Davie Jane Gilmour at PA College of Technology, One College Avenue, Williamsport, PA · 17701-5799, 570-326-3761.