Weekly Obsession: Pirate radio

Sunday, June 12, 2011 at 10:05pm

Nobody’s ever accused Vanderbilt of being an institution quick to change.

Traditions last a long time on West End. They still play frustrating football. Memorial Gym still puts its benches on the baseline. The paper is still The Hustler, despite Larry Flynt having changed the connotation of that appellate. And though it’s officially “Memorial Hall” now, the word “Confederate” is still carved into the facade.

Surely the university wouldn’t shed its five-decades-old student-run radio station, right? 

Alas, it’s true. Vanderbilt Student Communications sold the license to WPLN, which promptly changed the call letters of 91.9 to WFCL and promised wall-to-wall classical music. All this happened pretty rapidly — WRVU’s DJs weren’t told, and the jock on the air when it all went down told his listeners that some “mandatory maintenance” was scheduled. He left out the part about it being “mandatory” because
the station was sold. 

Nashville’s public radio station paid more than $3.3 million for the rights — that’s a lot of tote bags and Garrison Keillor bobblehead dolls — and Nashville’s indie music community went ballistic on the blogs. Which raises the question: Wouldn’t it have made more sense to wait until everyone was at Bonnaroo to announce this? 

It was an uprising among left-of-the-dial listeners unseen in this community since, well, WPLN stopped broadcasting classical music in the middle of the day. 

In any case, WRVU will live on, albeit not on the terrestrial airwaves. The station will start broadcasting this fall on one of WPLN’s HD channels and will stream online, so those jonesing for their fix should start carpooling with one of the nine people in the world who has an HD radio receiver. 

Vandy doesn’t just get a cool paycheck for their troubles: WPLN promised internships in its newsroom to Vanderbilt students, a nice get in an age where media jobs are more competitive and scarce. 

Of course, that’s inadequate succor to fans of WRVU’s eclectic mix of tunes and talk. And the last song played on WRVU? Pete Wilson of the Rock and Roll Rent Control show spun Johnny Thunders’ “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory.”

Not much succor there, either.

4 Comments on this post:

By: treehugger7 on 6/13/11 at 6:13

RIP--the greatest radio station ever. Everyone involved in this hijacking of a community treasure should be ashamed. Online radio ain't the same. VU and NPT ought to be ashamed of themselves. The 800 pound gorilla has spoken.

By: Moonglow1 on 6/13/11 at 6:24

Moonglow1: WRVU was the best. I will listen to them on HD. Too bad all stations cannot play what they want when they want instead of the "canned music" they are instructed to play over and over.

By: localboy on 6/14/11 at 11:29

All the dozens of listeners of RVU will weep at its demise in this configuration...but the new classical format will reach out and cover the same multi-block area and garner all the literally dozens of classical fans left dangling since the 09 shift by WPLN.
Seriously, you'd think some arrangement could have been reached where WPLN basically bought blocks of time to have WRVU broadcast classical, leaving the station intact and able to devote the remaining airtime to the niche it had carved.

By: tardistraveler on 6/15/11 at 10:54

It's a real bummer, for sure, and I don't have HD radio . . . :(

WRVU provided a nice alternative to the more commerical stations - I'll miss it.