Bidders prompted Johns Hopkins
rethinking of WJHU
Originally published in Current, March 26, 2001
By Stephanie Lash
Johns Hopkins University wasn't looking to sell its radio station, WJHU. But then it got an offer. And another one. And now, with two suitors already declared, the university is opening a formal process to determine the best course of action for its news-and-information station.
Licensees rethink their stations
Detroit: School system will keep its radio station for teaching
Springfield, Mo.: University adopts public TV station
Greeley: University of Northern Colorado sells to local nonprofit
Idaho: State likely to maintain public TV network
Omaha/Council Bluffs: Iowa college drops plan to sell station
Pasadena: College leases to offshoot of Minnesota Public Radio
University-Station Alliance: University president leads effort to improve station-college relations.
That's the story from Dennis O'Shea, the university spokesman who has been acting as the station's general manager since the summer, when it began searching for a replacement g.m. In mid-March, the university canceled interviews with four finalists for the job, saying it would delay hiring until after deciding what to do with the station.
The Baltimore Sun reported the university was definitely going to sell the station, but O'Shea said it's simply "doing a fuller evaluation of whether at this point there might be an entity that has broadcasting closer to its core mission that would be a good match for WJHU."
O'Shea said Maryland PTV and Minnesota Public Radio's parent, American Public Media Group, both approached the station, and that their interest sparked the university to open a formal solicitation of proposals. Hopkins may decide to explore a partnership, to sell the station, or to simply keep the status quo. Spokesmen at APMG and MPT confirmed that discussions had taken place.
"On and off, we've looked into the possibility," said MPT's Jeff Hankin.
Tony Bol, spokesman for Minnesota Public Radio, said discussions with APMG were no different than any other business conversations that routinely take place.
This is not the first time that Hopkins has publicly announced that it wants to get out of the public radio business, remembered Dennis Kita, a former g.m. at WJHU.
"As owner of the station, Hopkins has that prerogative and, frankly, for the station to flourish it must find owners that have both the means and the motivation to succeed in public radio," Kita said. "Of those two factors, motivation is the more important one. Without the motivation and commitment, even Hopkins' $1.6 billion a year budget and $1 billion university endowment aren't enough."
The University-Station Alliance, a group of university-licensed public radio stations, tries to help such organizations negotiate such concerns. Vice President Pat Monteith, g.m. of WUMB, noted that most higher education institutions are in a crisis situation with increased competition and decreased funding, and if stations aren't part of their monetary solution, they're viewed as part of the problem.
U:SA Executive Director Linda Carr added that the recent spate of severed ties between universities and radio stations is not an inherent problem. But, rather, the problem is how the news is handled.
"These situations are unfortunate because the stations were blind-sided and had so little time to react," Carr said. "It's a tremendous blow to the morale of staff. They feel so inconsequential. Depending on how it's done, members of the audience can experience the same emotions."
O'Shea insisted that the university has not decided to sell the stationand may take no action after exploring its options. But the news still has other university licensees worried. With recent developments coming so quickly, Carr is planning a new session for university licensees at the Public Radio Conference. "The session," she said, "will now focus on what leads to these drastic situations, how a station should respond to them, and how to head them off."
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Web page posted March 30, 2001
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