Alumni petition for change in operation of WWCU-FM

A group of Western Carolina University and WWCU-FM alumni are currently running a petition against the Communication Department and WCU to try and change the format of the radio station and who runs it.

The group, led by Mike Jackson, WCU ’84 alumni and owner of Creative Audio Productions, Inc., wants to change the radio station from classic rock to pop and top 40 songs to better fit the taste of the general student body. The group also wants to see the station back under student control.

Jackson said, “WWCU operated successfully this way for nearly 25 years—more than twice as long as it operated outside of complete student control. WWCU went from being student-run, under Student Affairs, to being under The College of Arts and Sciences, about 11 or 12 years ago.  The intent of WWCU’s original student founders in 1976 was that WWCU was to be 100% student-run, with all important decisions made solely by the station’s student management—not by faculty.

“At the most recent WWCU reunion,” Jackson continued, “several alums pointed out that they had visited the WWCU website… and were saddened to see the station automated for several hours.”   

He also pointed out that several other universities in the UNC system, including N.C. State, ASU, ECU and UNC-Chapel Hill, are 100% student-run, under student affair departments or student-run media boards.

Jackson clarified, “By no means are we suggesting a top 40 format all the time, but at least allow it weekdays, starting at 6 a.m. for students who prefer current top 40 music, as well as those student DJs who aspire to work at commercial top 40 stations one day.”

Of why the current music selection is classic rock, Don Connelly, Communication Department Head and WWCU faculty advisor, said “When the station moved its transmitter from the campus to Cutoff Mountain (above Balsam Gap) to increase WWCU’s coverage area, a group of students conducted market research collecting demographic and audience rating information for the region.  It was this student group that selected a then ‘classic hits’ format for WWCU that has evolved into more of a classic rock format

“At 6 p.m. the station goes to its ‘after-dark’ specialty formats chosen by students,” he added. The ‘after-dark’ formats for the fall 2010 semester included:  country, hip-hop, top 40, alternative, underground heavy metal, electronica, sports, sports talk, and ‘hot topic’ talk… Spring 2011 will also see the development of a computer talk show.”

Addressing the assertion that the radio station was taken out of the control of the students, Connelly said that was a misstatement and provided a background to help put the changes in context.

“In 2006, the Student Media Board, consisting of 14 members, created radio station WCAT on the university cable system as a fully student-owned and operated station under the oversight of the Student Media Board and Student Affairs.  At the same time, WCU transitioned WWCU to be a student-run radio station integrated with academic programming under the oversight of the Division of Academic Affairs,” said Connelly. “This year, there are 51 student volunteers at WWCU along with the student general manager, student program coordinator, and student underwriting coordinator.  While the primary targeted listening audience for WCAT is the immediate student body, the primary targeted listening audience for WWCU is the western region of North Carolina served by WCU.”

Students, faculty and community members have voiced concerns for a few years about the format of the radio station.

The 90.5 radio station is one of the few radio stations that reach campus and the surrounding areas clearly. Other competing radio stations include 99.9 FM, 680 AM and 104.9 FM, which is also classic rock.

Students and surrounding community members have shown they want more top 40 type songs by joining the Facebook group “Please Bring Top 40 Back To WWCU!”, which was started by Jackson. The group has reached about 200 members with several wall posts and comments in agreement with the alumni members who started the group.

Scott Burr, a current WCU student, said, “…I would LOVE to see the radio station back in the hands of the students.  To be honest, we’re getting pretty sick of listening to music from 30-40 years ago due to the fact that we don’t have a choice in the matter.  When my father was a member of WWCU, they were able to play the Top 40 during that time period, and run the station themselves.  I want to see that same deal come into play again in this age.”

Mary Finley, a junior at Western Carolina, and Allison Bracken, a sophomore, agree.

“The music they play now doesn’t make me want to listen it,” said Finley. “I would rather hear more pop and rap.”

“I am not a big fan of classic rock and would be more likely to listen to a radio station who plays top hits and more current music,” added Bracken.

Junior Steve Sutton doesn’t mind WWCU’s format.

“I enjoy listening to 90.5 because I like classic rock and the fact that I can turn on the radio and hear people that I have class with when they’re a DJ,” said Sutton. “I think it could use an hour or two more a day with new music, but nevertheless it is one of the only stations I listen to regularly and enjoy.”

What is planned beyond a Facebook group by alumni who want a change to WWCU?

Jackson said, “We’ve thought about maybe having special T-shirts for sale at a nominal charge this spring, for supporters of this cause to wear around campus. We’ve already been in touch with The WCU Foundation about this and they were very supportive. All profits from the sale of the shirts would go to The Patrick Lee Carmody Scholarship Fund, which provides continuing support for WCU students who are majoring in the B.S. in the Communications (Radio-TV) program.”

The alumni group and Jackson are also considering a peaceful protest on campus.

If you would like to get involved or submit ideas to Jackson, anyone is welcome to join the Facebook group or email their suggestions to WWCU.Alumni@Radio.FM .