WMUC Fights to Stay on Air
"WMUC" is currently trending on Twitter in Washington, D.C., which is probably a first for the student-run radio station at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Unfortunately, the circumstances that have propelled WMUC into such company as "#welcometothedmv" and the promoted tag "#JackDanielsHoney" are frustrating at best and devastating at worst: A severe budget slash from the university's Student Government Association has left the radio station with exactly $6,966—or, barely enough money to function in its next fiscal year.
WMUC typically requests $40,000 in funding yearly from the SGA, but station manager Mario Pareja-Lecaros says, cognizant of budget strains, they scaled back this year's request to $27,000. "We asked for what we need to make it simple," he says.
It's a hefty chunk of change, but running a radio station—which includes an FM station with an online stream (WMUC), an online-only stream (WMUC2), and an online-only sports stream (WMUC Sports)—is no cheap thing. The money pays for mandatory fees and licenses to both labels and the Federal Communications Commission; power and telecommunications, like Internet access, phone bills, and on-location live streaming; and equipment both small, such as cables, and large, such as a new Emergency Alert System machine which will comply with FCC protocol. With the new budget, first to go could be the online streams, which would directly affect the online-only WMUC2 and WMUC Sports. (WMUC1 also streams online, but has the 88.1 FM frequency.)
Even worse was the brief glimmer of false hope the station was granted early this morning. As U-Md.'s student newspaper, The Diamondback, reported this morning, the station appealed the $6,966 it was granted by the finance committee to the association's body of legislators. WMUC asked for an additional $6,000, which would have brought its total funds to about $13,000, the bare-bones amount it would need to cover its fees, licenses, and telecommunications. Amendments were drafted and proposed for the station to receive the money it lobbied for, but they did not pass.
SGA president Steve Glickman says that the finance committee had around $730,000 to cover $3 million in requests from 250 different student groups, and the legislature had an additional $50,000 to distribute based on appeals. The largest recipient of that $50,000 was MaryPIRG, an environmental interest group who also appealed to the SGA legislature. MaryPIRG asked for, and was granted, $44,000 to for two non-student staffers, a campus organizer and the MaryPIRG state director. Glickman explains: "They were granted their appeal because of a campus-wide referendum that we held last year asking 'would you support the salaries that this group asks for every year.' That passed overwhelmingly last year, so the legislature felt it was a priority to follow the referendum." And so, WMUC came away from the appeal with zero dollars.
WMUC is one of the last true college radio stations in the country. Pareja-Lecaros notes that many other purported college radio stations "are radio stations from colleges, but they're not operated by students, and they're affiliated with corporations." WMUC is also free-form, meaning its DJs don't have to adhere to playlists determined by labels or music rankings.
Will WMUC survive? "I feel like we can do it. It's definitely going to take a lot of work and a lot of planning the fundraising," Pareja-Lecaros said. He noted that the outpour of support on Twitter and Facebook from WMUC alumni has been tremendous, and said the station hopes to capitalize on some of its more famous graduates—including news anchor Connie Chung, who will, fortuitously, be on campus next week.
Image courtesy Ben Schwartz.