Campus / Community / Featured / News / May 30, 2013

‘End of an era’ for WVKC

wvkc3After over 40 years of student-run programming broadcast live on 90.7 FM, WVKC may be reorganized to push student shows online as part of a proposed agreement with a regional public radio station.

As student radio shows would no longer be broadcasted across the 90.7 FM wavelength, WVKC leadership are concerned that the slots will no longer be taken as seriously by the DJs under the new system. However, they agree that the changes would be positive overall, moving the station into the digital age.

Under the agreement, the broadcast station would operate as a branch of Tri States Public Radio, an NPR affiliate based at Western Illinois University and covering west-central Illinois, southeast Iowa and northeast Missouri. The proposed change is a full-fledged expansion of a 2007 partnership in which TSPR broadcasts NPR’s Morning Edition on 90.7 during the week.

President Teresa Amott said that the general manager of TSPR presented her with the opportunity to host HD public radio on campus. Part of the deal includes installing the necessary technology at no cost to the college, while keeping the studio space and WVKC staff structure the same.

With the new digital radio interface, the 90.7 frequency would be split. TSPR would occupy the first channel, which would transmit to analog radios, while the student-run WVKC stream could only be accessed on a digital radio or on the Internet.

WVKC general managers seniors Hali Engelman and Andrew Stocker noted some disadvantages to the plans, though they supported the shift on the whole. Specifically, they felt like the move to digital streaming would inhibit analog radio users from listening to student programming. Still, Stocker noted that digital radio is becoming the standard.

“There was a little friction over that point, because there are so many exciting opportunities that come with a deal like this for the college,” Stocker said. “That was immediately recognized, and we are also very excited about those opportunities, but I think in that kind of excitement to get the ball rolling on this thing, the prevalence of analog radio was maybe not acknowledged. But again, I think the switch over is pretty unavoidable.”

The splitting of the 90.7 frequency garnered some opposition from the WVKC staff. On a digital radio, listeners will have the choice between two channels while analog listeners will not.

Stocker said that this would influence the Galesburg community and the on campus community in different ways. Whereas students most likely have the resources to access the second channel, either through online streaming or digital radios, the Galesburg community utilizes analog radio devices more prevalently.

The impact would be felt most heavily, he said, on programs run by Galesburg community members, shows like The Archaeology of Radio and the Hora Latina, which maintain wide listenership.

Engelman supports the idea that analog radio may be more widely used than the administration believes.

“[Some] were sort of making assumptions that no one has an analog and no one listens on analog, which I think, as far as I’m concerned, is not true. Most of the people I know listen on their car radio or have an analog radio, and I think that that assumption should change,” Engelman said.

In an interview with The Knox Student, Amott insisted that student opposition would have caused the venture to have been reconsidered.

“We were not going to move forward with the university until the students gave us the go-ahead,” Amott said.

WVKC’s current and incoming general managers were informed of the proposed agreement during a meeting last week with members of the Broadcast, Internet and Publications Board, Chair and Professor of Political Science Andrew Civettini and Dean of Students Debbie Southern, among others.

“If the general managers had significant opposition, we would have engaged in a much lengthier conversation about the idea and its benefits for the college before moving forward,” Civettini said in an interview.

But for Stocker, the opportunities for WVKC in the proposed agreement are worth the change.

“I think if we had come in some sort of organized opposition, or if we had felt more strongly than we did in opposition to the meeting, then they probably would have reconsidered, but I mean, the facts kind of speak for themselves in terms of the opportunities that are going to be provided,” Stocker said.

Engelman said that Civettini played an important role in clarifying the plan, which changed the tone of the meeting.

“I think Andy Civettini really tried to give us all the information before letting us talk; because what it sounds like immediately is that they’re taking it off the air, they’re making it stream and we are, I guess, against that,” she said. “But he gave us a lot of information about what it’s going to provide the school and I think that dramatically changed the tone of the meeting, which I think started out kind of tense because no one knew exactly what they were going to propose.”

Amott said that modernizing the technology in the station was a factor in considering the shift.

“The proposal … was a more technologically advanced option, and I thought it held real promise for our student radio station to vault into new technologies,” Amott said.

Stocker called the change the “end of an era.”

“It saddens me that this is the end of the broadcast of WVKC on air,” Engelman said, though she also expressed her view that an NPR station in Galesburg is overdue.

Related: The editorial board weighs in

Amott agreed with Engelman’s opinion on the arrival of an NPR station in Galesburg.

“I knew that it would be good for Galesburg to have a full-scale public radio station, and I knew that it can be very good for students to have an affiliation with a public radio station,” she said.

Stocker said that while there may be some conflicting feelings surrounding the issue, the move would have multiple positive outcomes. He stressed that the student leadership of the station would have to work with the administration to ensure a successful transition.

“Like any major switch, it was one of the points that we made very clear that we have to present a unified front between the staff of WVKC and the Knox College administration, who are running this change, to present this to the DJs on campus and off campus to get through and rationalize this change,” he said.

As part of the proposed agreement, a full time TSPR reporter would be stationed in Galesburg, and internship opportunities will be made available for Knox students interested in broadcast radio.

Tags:  90.7 wvkc andrew stocker Hali Engelman Knox College NPR public radio radio streaming Tri States Public Radio wvkc

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Julian Boireau
Julian Boireau is a senior majoring in international relations and minoring in French. This is his fourth year working for TKS, having served as co-news editor during his sophomore and junior years. He has been involved in journalism for seven years, serving as opinions editor of the newspaper and editor-in-chief of the literary magazine at Palisades Charter High School in Los Angeles, California. In September 2012, Julian received press credentials to attend the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City, where he reported on remarks by President Barack Obama and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. He is also the recipient of back-to-back first place awards from the Illinois College Press Association for front page layout.

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May 30, 2013

Although I’d love an NPR station in Galesburg, as someone who still listens to WVKC on an analogue radio and has experienced trouble with streaming in recent years, I’m very nervous about this move.

May 30, 2013

I’m disappointed. I listen to WVKC in my kitchen and my car frequently. I don’t have digital access in those places so I’m likely to stop listening to the student run side of WVKC. We have two, sometimes three NPR stations that reach our home already.

May 30, 2013

This article did not really make it clear that the WVKC streaming capabilities are going to be much higher after this switch. Streaming has had problems in the past due mainly to faulty and equipment. After this switch, streaming will be under the control of Tri States Public Radio which will greatly increase streaming capabilities. WVKC is also in the process of revamping the station’s website which will make streaming more easily available. Also, WVKC will still be broadcast on digital radios.

May 30, 2013

Gonna be honest: I don’t know anyone who owns or has access to a digital radio.

My suspicion is that the motivation for this move is largely financial. It’s doubtful that the college would have been able to afford digital equipment (whenever digital did become more popular among the student body) without the support of TSPR. And will TSPR cover other operating costs of the station? That would be a huge boon for the college.

I think the opportunities this will afford students for internships will be fantastic for the journalism program. I just wish that those opportunities hadn’t come about due to financial motivations (if that is indeed the case) rather than a genuine desire coming from the campus community for a move to NPR/online streaming.

Jun 01, 2013

The primary motivation is the expanded opportunities for the current and future students of Knox College, both within and beyond WVKC. This is not a financial move. Anyone who has questions should feel free to contact me directly, in my capacity as Chair of BIP.

    Aug 12, 2013

    Andew, I just question that motivation. Why can’t Knox students themselves decide how they want WVKC to be operated? I know several students who actually work in radio currently who started as WVKC staff members before these changes. Signing off on a contract with local NPR affiliates ultimately means that WVKC will be hidebound to that format and unable to change to the wants and needs of current and future students.

Jun 10, 2013

Check your premises, Knox.

This entire argument is based upon the assumption that “HD radio” is the future of radio. I would expect the folks at WVKC (as the station operators) and TKS (as reporters) to be questioning that assumption. Let’s ask ourselves:

– What does the adoption curve of “HD” radio look like?
– What is HD radio’s competition? How is the competitor’s marketshare trending vs HD?

Luckily for you the Pew Research Center’s “Project for Excellence in Journalism” does yearly state-of-the-media reports, and they address HD radio as well as its competitors. You can find the audio section of their 2013 report here:

I’d like to draw your attention to the “HD Radio” section, specifically that precipitous graph.

From the report:
“For the first time since 2004, when HD radio receivers became available for retail sale, more radio stations dropped their HD signal than adopted the technology. By December 2012, 2,048 radio stations were broadcasting an HD signal, down from 2,103 during the same period in 2011, according to BIA Financial Network data and analysis from the Project for Excellence in Journalism. HD failed to both entice AM/FM listeners to pay up rather than continue listening for free and to draw those willing to pay away from satellite.”

Jacobs Media is a consultancy that also gives yearly reports on the radio landscape: Can you guess which media format is performing the worst?

HD radio is dead. It didn’t beat out the entrenched analog AM/FM base, and it can’t compete against better options like online streaming and Pandora. It is not the future, it is not “ahead of the curve”, and it will not provide WVKC with opportunities. What it _will_ do is decrease listenership, put another wall between Knox and the community, and destroy one of Knox’s best assets*.

Analog radios, despite the editorial staff’s opinion, are not a rarity. They represent an existing broadcast mechanism that Knox uses to serve the *majority* of the public. We’re willing to sacrifice this to get a free upgrade to a new mechanism that serves a *minority* of the public. Knox justifies this because it will allow the school to “get ahead of the curve”, when every indication points to the inevitable death of the HD radio format TSPR is so excited to switch us to.

In short, we’re about to give up 90.7 so TSPR can move us to the Betamax of radio.

And let’s talk about TSPR. Why do they want the analog band if HD is the future? They’re asking us for the “old” and advocating the “new” in the same breath — is this really not raising any red flags? TSPR is going to hoodwink the school, getting 90.7’s valuable wavelength in exchange for moving the school to a dying technology. It’s a brilliant play, except we get the crap end of the deal.

So what should Knox, do? First, we should walk away from the TSPR deal. Second, if we’re worried about falling behind the tech curve we should double-down on online streaming, which people _do_ use, and for which we _don’t_ need to lose 90.7’s analog signal.

I expected more out of the administration, WVKC, and TKS on this one. Then again, making risky bets that don’t pay off is a long standing Knox tradition — just ask our endowment.

— Matt Baker, ’09, former staff member of TKS and WVKC

* In case everyone has forgotten:

Jun 11, 2013

I have an HD Radio, and I like it, but it seems like it’s not taking off. I know few people that have one.

But don’t take my anecdotes as any proof; look at google trends. HD Radio is on an overall downward trend.

For comparison, here is HD Radio vs. Pacman. As we can see, WVKC has put its future into a technology that has never been as popular as pacman is right now.

In Thoughts from the Embers, Gorney said “Analog radios may go the way of the VCR.”[1] Well, HD Radio might be going the way of betamax.


Jul 18, 2013

As a former WVKC student DJ, I totally condemn this move. The student programming on WVKC is far more varied and interesting than NPR. NPR is mainstream news with liberal flavor. WVKC is a weird and wild place filled with sound that you won’t hear anywhere else. HD radio is unlikely to exist for long, as matt has convincingly argued. If TSPR thinks that the digital channel is worth anything, let them have it.

The WVKC online stream was finicky and low-quality when I was there. While it’s tempting to hear that it would improve, it’s not worth giving up the analog channel, which everyone seems to agree is the real prize here.

Bad move, everyone. Pack it up and go home.

Aug 05, 2013

Wow, so much negativity. As staff at Knox, involved with both the technical and logistics of this switch, I’m surprised. Consider a few things. First, WVKC has hardly any range whatsoever, and with our current streaming capacity, our audience is largely defined by geography. Yes radios still exist, but they’re pretty rare on the incoming students shopping lists. Most students don’t have cars, and most students listen to music/radio on computers, tablets, smartphones or MP3 players with radio. HD radio may not triumph over other digital delivery systems, but it’s probably not going to be eaten up by AM radio. Without a lot of money to get a huge tower, WVKC has very few options of expanding. The analog is valuable because NPR is a viable alternative in a radio challenged area, and the content of NPR has a broader appeal than ever changing college shows. WVKC has very little audience in the community, especially if you don’t count shows done by community members (3 total). The student body on campus will be able to continue to listen to their fellow students much more easily now, and the ability to reach Alumni and DJs parents and friends back home will now actually exist. The college is not getting any money for this, and the whole deal has forced (in a good way) the student staff to clean up the station, take some real charge and make a good station. Remember that your memories of being IN the station doing a show have nothing to do with the communities ability to tune in to WVKC (in any capacity) to access good, interesting alternative radio. The student experience in the studio will hardly change, just harder to party now. HD may not be the wave of the future that holds out, but switching to another digital delivery system in the future will be much easier because of this groundwork, and our ability with streaming and mobile devices is going to go through the roof. It’s easy to pine for “the way things were” but let’s just remember that Knox also found itself with the question “should we try to improve and expand, even if we have to learn along the way, or should we just keep rubberstamping the status quo?” Even those of you who don’t like this idea or have these great memories can’t possibly tell me that WVKC was at it’s full potential. We’re just trying to make the station more awesome, for the students, the staff, Knox, Galesburg, and the wide reaching diaspora of Knox Alumni.

Aug 12, 2013

I’d say the money quote here is from President Amott, “We were not going to move forward with the university until the students gave us the go-ahead.”

As an alumnus, I’m obviously no longer on campus, but I don’t understand how students giving the “go-ahead” means a few WVKC managers reluctantly sign off after what appears to be a somewhat manipulative meeting.

Why isn’t “go-ahead” decided by at least a majority of Knox Students overall. Why is Todd Smith trying to justify this boondoggle by making assumptions about how Knox students and Galesburg residents access and listen to WVKC. What are those assumptions based on? To me, the radio station is already broadcast online so that point is irrelevant. And the three community shows are actually the ones going to be hurt the most if as Matt suggests, very few residents will have access to the HD radio technology.

In my opinion, it’s college radio stations that are more unique and interesting than NPR, which others note is already available in Galesburg. If done right, many college stations actually are a valuable radio genre, exposing audiences to new, independent music. To me, this whole decision seems very rushed. Why is Knox so intent on radically changing WVKC? Why aren’t they truly allowing students input into this decision? Why are they making so many assumptions about student/Galesburg residents listening habits without really doing the work to find out what the audiences desire in WVKC? (I am sure we have some smart sociology, political science or economics students who can create the surveys to find this information out for you). If the answer is “because if we don’t rush this, then we can’t have this NPR station thing,” I frankly think that is unacceptable.

Knox needs to quit using the slogan “freedom to flourish,” if it won’t even give students the freedom to decide for themselves what happens to a beloved campus institution.

Aug 16, 2013

Did they hire a consultant or broker for this deal? That is where many administrations are getting bad information about HD and selling off their frequencies.

Aug 19, 2013

for anyone willing to put up a halfway decent FM antenna, 91.3 macomb, 91.7 augustana and 89.9 peoria might all be available, not to mention that most public radio programming can be streamed a la carte online. you can also stream content from local stations, including TSPR.

I don’t have anything against TSPR expanding its coverage to galesburg: I live in macomb now, and I’m in favor of better communication between our two communities through the shared news coverage that TSPR would produce.

I do think that WVKC has been an active, principled, creative, and community-building project on campus over many years, and it’s a shame to erase its presence on the dial, which is important for reaching community members, faculty, commuters, etc. I also think that having a student-programmed analog station actually allows exchange between students and galesburg. my friends and I always encouraged people to call in on our shows, and had a number of great conversations with townspeople as a result.

I’m not against TSPR and Knox collaborating in some way: I bet knox students could come up with some very interesting local reporting. I just feel like having a station of local student programs broadcast on the analog channel where the whole community will have access to it is more in line with Knox’s needs and President Amott’s stated goals.

it grieves me that space on the dial is limited, but I wish TSPR could find another slot. it was called no sale radio for a reason, and replacing that with mainstream programs sponsored by various industrial complexes does no honor to the work students have put in over the years to make it the thoughtful, radical thing it has been.

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