As a Lawrence University alumnus and former member of the WLFM staff, I am writing to express my disappointment with the recent shutdown of WLFM’s FM signal and conversion to internet-only broadcasting. College radio is critically important in today’s climate, in which radio has become increasingly homogenized as large corporations like Clear Channel now control thousands of stations. Without college radio, non-mainstream programming is completely locked out of the airwaves. This is especially important for the Fox Valley’s minority Hmong and Hispanic communities, for whom WLFM has hosted cultural-themed radio shows for many years. Internet broadcasting means little to many of these families who cannot afford internet access. Attracting listeners will be difficult given the thousands of other broadcasters, and record labels will stop sending free promotional CDs to WLFM, a huge setback to DJs. The switch could devastate the nationally recognized Midwest Trivia Contest. Running a real-time call-in contest over an internet broadcast will be technically difficult, if not impossible, due to variable time delays.Lawrence should have considered operating the FM broadcast apart from Wisconsin Public Radio, as was done before 1990. A reduction to 100 watts might allow WLFM to become classified as a low power FM station, making its FCC license free. WLFM operates on old equipment, but this equipment is still working and the need to upgrade is not immediate. College radio stations across the country have similar problems and usually make ends meet by purchasing used equipment available online. Most college stations exist on a budget less than the tuition of a single Lawrence student, with many receiving less than $10,000 yearly. Lawrence spends much more on other campus activities and could easily afford this level of support to keep one of its great traditions alive.
It is appalling that Lawrence students were not consulted regarding the decision. The rapid shutdown over the summer, likely orchestrated to minimize student protest, is even worse. This disregard for students’ input has caused me to doubt my otherwise positive views of Lawrence. I sincerely hope this trend can be reversed in the near future.
James M. Daley
Former WLFM DJ and Station Manager
Lawrence Class of 2000