Within the next few years, leaders of WBUL, USF’s student-run radio station, hope to be free from Student Government.
SG took control of the station in 2003 to provide it with more resources and technology. Prior to this, WBUL was a student organization with an operating budget that never exceeded $8,000. Since SG took over, WBUL’s operating budget has increased dramatically. On Tuesday, the SG senate allocated it $124,527.
So why do some members at the station want to cut ties?
“We’re trying to avoid the Rupert Murdoch syndrome,” music director Jake Tremper said. “If SG controlled the Oracle, there would be all kinds of things called into question. Our battle cry has been, ‘We’re the voice of the student body, not the Student Government.'”
David Armstrong – an SG adviser to the Agency Review Board (ARB), a group that oversees the different SG agencies, – said separating wouldn’t be a smart move.
“They had a limited amount of equipment and a limited amount of space; now they have a lot more resources. Now they can hire people, which they were not allowed to do before; all of them were volunteers. So there are obvious benefits of being with SG,” he said. “SG doesn’t get involved with the day-to-day operations of the station. It’s not like they have someone down there constantly saying, ‘Do this’ or, ‘Don’t do that.’ We don’t try to micro-manage them.”
WBUL acknowledges it’s still years away from possibly gaining independence, but hopes it’s sooner rather than later.
“If it were to happen tomorrow, then the station would fold,” Tremper said. “We don’t have the advertising base right now. But we want to be independent in the long run. We’re a media outlet, so of course we want to be as independent as soon as possible.”
Former Interim Station Director Angela Granese, who had been at the station before and after SG took over, resigned last week following what she described as a biased process to appoint a new station director. The ARB, an SG group headed by student body President Maxon Victor, was responsible for picking a new WBUL leader. When it opted for a WBUL outsider instead of Granese, who had been at the station since 2002, many of the 60 students who work at the station were irked. More frustrating, they said, was that WBUL was not allowed any input in the process.
“That gave us a reason to go and push for it,” Granese said. “It made us think, ‘Maybe we should do this on our own if this is how it’s going to be.'”
Armstrong agreed with Granese’s reasoning.
“From my perspective, it seems like that’s the case, because there’s been no real push to become independent until this point,” he said.
Jen Brack, also an adviser to SG, understands the station’s frustrations but doesn’t think it’s a good idea to separate – at least not in the near future and not because of this particular incident.
“Their concerns are legitimate,” Brack said. “And I think that they’ve been very happy being connected with SG up until this recent situation, so I’m not sure that pulling out of SG is necessarily the best thing. I’d hate to see a rash decision. I think it’s something that really needs to be looked into before that’s considered.”
WBUL has a high turnover rate because its employees are students. Tremper said that might hinder the station’s quest to separate from SG.
“A lot of times someone will have a vision and we’ll work toward it, then that person graduates and we kind of take a few steps back,” he said.
In response, leaders from WBUL requested that SG hire a graduate assistant so there’s always somebody who will be there. According to Armstrong, who said funding has been approved to hire for the next fiscal year, the graduate assistant will only advise, not manage or run the station.
“It will be someone who has some experience in broadcasting, probably from the mass communications department, and will be a 20-to-30 hour presence at the station,” he said. “It should help them be more effective.”
While a fear of becoming a puppet for SG is not a realistic concern for Tremper, he saw backlash from some in SG when a few WBUL employees posted flyers around campus viciously criticizing SG after the station director controversy. Part of the flyer read: “This is our protest against a broken system, a system riddled with inconsistencies, shady policies and failed logic. … If SG can make such decisions for us without us, what’s stopping them from doing the same to you?”
According to Granese, Armstrong yelled at her and told her Victor could fire her if he wanted because of the flyers. Armstrong later apologized to Granese for the manner in which he scolded her, but not for what he said.
“I thought it was an unprofessional way of handling the situation,” he said.
As far as any free speech concerns WBUL may have, Armstrong said the station shouldn’t be worried.
“Within FCC guidelines and in some rational context, they can say whatever they want. The issue becomes not so much the protest of the policies of SG, but the bashing of SG,” he said, referring to the flyer incident, among other things. “We want to hear their opinion, just not like that.”
WBUL, which operates in the lower level of the Phyllis P. Marshall Center, has been on the air since 1988. According to Brack, the move to SG has improved the station tremendously.
“Their growth has been exponential in that time,” she said. “But in the end, if they feel like they’d be better as an independent station, then I would be open to that conversation because I want them to be successful.”