September 24, 1997
STATEMENT OF CHAIRMAN REED HUNDT ON SALE OF WDCU(FM)
In order to realize a one-time gain, the University of the District of Columbia is selling a priceless asset -- its radio station. That station, Jazz 90, has a very popular all-jazz format, and indeed, has gained the fourth largest black audience of any noncommercial radio outlet in the country. After the sale to C-SPAN, the station will no longer provide the great jazz that so many in D.C. have enjoyed for years.
While I understand the difficult circumstances in which UDC finds itself, I am concerned that this sale may typify a larger trend. All over the country, institutions like UDC find themselves under pressure to bring in revenues. Will they, too, sell off their noncommercial stations? With what result for the public?
I believe we should pause to examine this trend. We need to gather the facts about what pressures are being placed on noncommercial licensees, and how the market is changing. If a trend in selling these stations is found, we might wish to consider taking action.
We should ask whether there is a special benefit in having noncommercial licenses in the hands of educational institutions or local institutions, rather than large national or regional networks. Do we need ownership caps for noncommercial licensees, similar to what is in place for commercial licensees, to ensure that these licenses continue to serve local needs? Should we consider making distinctions within the noncommercial category -- now extremely broad -- so that all noncommercial licensees are not interchangeable?
I believe this case should prompt us to examine the underlying forces that may be working to change the nature of noncommercial broadcast service.