WNRB RIP

You may have noticed by now the gaping hole in your radio dial at 93.3FM. In a sudden shocking move yesterday, NTC literally pulled the plug on the community station. Today’s story in the Herald states that the college did this because “WNRB is too far away from the core mission of the organization to provide education and knowledge,” according to Melanie Platt-Gibson, Director of Communications and Marketing at the college.

Unfortunately this seems to show a very narrow idea of what “providing education and knowledge” means. Yes, WNRB was not an “educational” station in the traditional sense of the word, but it provided a community voice that can be found pretty much no where else. The station carried Hmong programming every day and programming from Latinos Unidos. There were information shows, humor shows, music shows and alternative health shows. It sounded like “education and knowledge” to me.

Now, I have to admit my bias here, I was a volunteer at the station, and so provided some of the “education and knowledge” such as it was. But I volunteered at the station because I truly believe that community radio offers exactly that: “education and knowledge.” Even if someone produces a purely “entertainment show” on a community station, you will learn something. You will learn what one of your friends and neighbors is thinking and experiencing. You will never, ever learn this on a corporate, playlisted station.

When the station started up, I immediately recognized that NTC had given a great gift to the community. I was also afraid that they, not being a charitable institution, might rescind that gift at any time. Apparently that time is now.

Unfortunately, if the story in the Herald is accurate, NTC has gone beyond no longer giving a gift into the realm of hurting the community.

LPFM licenses are no longer being issued by the FCC (as a practical matter) and apparently NTC has simply turned theirs in. This is a great loss to the community. It would not have cost NTC very much at all to investigate if this license could have been transferred to another community group. NTC could have kept the license and acted as an umbrella to another community group. But apparently the license is gone and now most likely will never be replaced. A local voice may have been lost forever.

If so, that is a shame. And shame on NTC for doing that.

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10 responses to “WNRB RIP

  1. That is a great perspective on it. A really great perspective. I hope someday to find that kind of perspective on this issue.

  2. I hate to be conspiratorial, but I wonder if there are other issues at stake here than just budgetary and educational. Corporate broadcasters do not care for LPFM stations in the least. Was some pressure put onto NTC by another media company? Is there another broadcaster waiting in the wings to snatch up that spot of frequency?

  3. Ya know Micheal, sometimes I am chided for being cynical, but sometimes I think that I am nowhere near cynical enough. Me thinks there must be more to the story. One interesting aspect is that apparently NTC shut down the station AND released the license on the same day. Even if the decision to shut down the station was made in some haste (say to conincide with the new school year) why dispose of the license immediately? After all, it would not cost them any money to hang on to it (and perhaps use the station as their own personal radio station broadcasting school schedules, announcements and such, which would have been perfectly legal and could have been done with little or no cost with the equipment already in place) or transfer it to some community group, including ones which were already working with the station (the Hmong Association, Latinos Unidos and others). Personally, I am not willing rule out any kind of conspiracy theory at this point.

  4. One thing that is also curious, is that this station had never applied for a license. They were still operating under a construction permit, and one could argue, never should have at all, as they never filed for a license to cover, which gives the station program test authority. The permit expires in November.

  5. Extraordinarily interesting 🙂 I did check the FCC website and looks as though you are correct.  The current status is “Construction Permit — Off Air” so I assume that is absolutely up to date and not some website lag.  I am not an expert on the FCC website, but I did look to see if an application for full licensure had been made, but could find no record of that.  I suppose there has to be some very, very good reason why WNRB was on the air for over a year on a construction permit.

    I  also suppose that my comments about NTC wasting a “license” were incorrect.  They only wasted a “potential” license, which in many ways is just as bad.  I guess there are still questions that have to be answered!

    Thanks for your comment, Mike.  Feel free to throw in any more information you find any time!

  6. Engineering wise, there are a couple of things to look at. First, a construction permit allows you to do testing and engineering surveys. You can apply for a “test licence” which will allow you to operate for a period of no longer than six months, based on the need for testing.

    I discovered WNRB while driving through Wausau – At first I thought it was a pirate, since it lacked any form of audio control, and since the signal was so weak. The major problem was that the programming was bad and the audio was bad. No, I did not call the FCC, and I would not even if it was a “pirate”!

    The biggest question I have is/was “who is listening?”

    Back to engineering:
    The second problem has to do with air pressure differences which frequently occurr across the state. 93.3 is subject to strong DX from “z93” in LaCrosse and WJZI in Milwaukee. At night in August and September, this station can be completely washed off the dial by DX reception or regular reception of Z93. In the morning in March and April, the station gets washed by WJZI. There is also potential for interference from a station somewhere near Ashland, though this weather pattern is rare.

    93.3 cannot become a full power station because it does not meet adjacent channel requirements with 93.5 in the Fox Cities (Green Bay, Appleton). 10-100 watts is all you get, although this is quite sufficient to cover Wausau.

    The conspiracy theory that a commercial broadcaster influenced the decision to sign off is probably not true – commercial broadcasters thrive on advertizing. In a city like Wausau, shutting down an LPFM could have serious financial consequences for a commercial broadcaster, since listeners of the LPFM could boycott advertizers of the commercial station, and bankrupt it in a very short period of time. Commercial broadcasters are also required to act in the best intrest of the public, and suppressing free speech would not be doing such. Listeners of the LPFM could petition the FCC to revoke the commercial station(s) licence if the station acted in a way that was not in the public’s best interest – such as filing random, exagerated complaints against the LPFM with the FCC, or using extraordinary means to block the prospective licence of the LPFM station. Most commercial broadcasters want to avoid this route, and leave LPFMs and even non-interfering pirates, alone.

    So, again, I highly doubt that conspiracy theory is true. Better audio and a better transmitter site – maybe up on the big hill via a microwave link or even a directed wi-fi link – will make the station work. Without the know-how, setting up a station can be expensive.

    Neil Schubert
    Former “Microbroadcaster” from Milwaukee

  7. Hi Neil 🙂 Thanks for the comments. WNRB was an LPFM station running 6 watts from Mosinee hill. During our initial week of broadcasting the studio to transmitter link failed and the station had to run using a phone line to replace that link. The narrow bandwidth of the phoneline is the explanation for the “poor audio.”

    There was never a plan to or an avenue to “upgrade” to a “full power” license.

    I doubt that the listeners of any LPFM station could bankrupt any commercial station or advertiser through a boycott (which would be technically illegal anyway). On the national level both commercial broadcasters and NPR have fought LPFM tooth and nail and this resistance is probably the real reason that LPFM licenses are no longer being issued.

    And yes, we were well aware of the co-channel interference, unfortunately as part of their license LPFM stations have to accept such interference, but are never allowed to cause such interference to other broadcasting interests.

  8. Dear Neil,

    Thanks for the comments. I built the gear for WNRB. Or at least assembled what was purchased before I arrived. You and I have met I think, but am not sure.

    I do not believe that LPFM is a gateway drug to full power, in fact I believe in LPFM as the primary idea.

    To follow up on Bill, we were on our third layer of STL.

    LPFM is a political idea, as well as an engineering reality, in my opinion. The goal being to provide a voice to communities, warts and all. Sometimes it is a question of waiting at the trough to get funds to purchase the next thing, to provide the processing needed.

    I was reading your article about Bliss, and I am familiar with that company as well.

  9. Sorry to hear about this, but I wonder if all is truly lost. The FCC FM Database (http://www.fcc.gov/fcc-bin/fmq?list=0&facid=131637) still shows WNRB with construction permit (CP) status. Even if NCT has officially communicated with the FCC that it is abandoning its construction permit, that action does not appear to have been accepted yet by the FCC. A determined community group could request that the NCTC board communicate to the FCC to reverse that action, pending exploration of transfer of the CP to that group.

    The group could do this on its own, though it would help to find a lawyer with some FCC savvy, perhaps through the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, to find out what actions could be taken at this time.

  10. wnrb is back but it’s now call wnrblp 93.3fm

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