Just one year ago, the East Lansing community was commemorating the 60th anniversary of WKAR-TV, MSU’s public broadcasting station. As the station’s 61st birthday approaches on January 15, celebrations have fallen to the wayside and business negotiations have taken precedence.
On Tuesday, MSU’s President Lou Anna Simon will determine whether or not the station, which is housed in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences (CAS), will be included in a reverse auction hosted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). If she does opt to include WKAR, the FCC will then accept bids from interested buyers, including AT&T and Verizon. Bids may be as high as $206 million. For more information on the auction itself, read ELi’s previous coverage, here.
Mobile carriers are interested in the station, along with others between channels 14 and 56, because they need contiguous bandwidth. In layman’s terms, contiguous bandwidth allows for the availability of LTE that smartphone users love.
Many of those smartphone users are the CAS students who will be affected directly by the loss of WKAR. Which begs the question — does the appreciation CAS students have for their college’s TV station outweigh their love of fast cellphone data? Or do they trust a portion of the auction proceeds will be allocated favorably to the college?
WKAR student aid and recent creative advertising graduate Paige Rosas said the station is not only a valuable educational asset, but also important to low income families across Mid-Michigan who are unable to afford cable. She said selling the station would be a loss for the community.
“I would be extremely sad and really disappointed in the University, if MSU decides to sell. WKAR is such an important part of the community,” Rosas said. “They have student workers who get a hands-on experience on what it's like to be a part of that process. There are also people in the community who can't afford cable, some of those people depend on WKAR. I grew up watching Arthur and Big Bird. I don't want to be a part of taking that away from younger generations whose families can't afford cable.”
Creative advertising senior Nicole Farina doesn’t think the loss will affect a substantial enough amount of CAS students to keep President Simon from selling.
“I’m sure the people involved with WKAR will be upset, but I think more people won’t care.”
Farina continued to say the loss of the station positions CAS to modernize its facilities, which she said is long overdue.
“I think the station matters, but it’s a little outdated. It could mean a big chunk of money that Simon could put toward something more modern. It’s a loss, but also a gain.”
Farina wasn’t aware that WKAR programming is viewable not just on TV, but also online, as well as on iPhones and iPads. Cross-platform viewing capabilities allow the station to reach 1.6 million viewers.
WKAR has fought to remain relevant in the face of a growing digital world, and in the last year especially, the station appears to be winning the fight.
In June, WKAR was awarded five Emmys from the Michigan Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (http://cas.msu.edu/msu-comartsci-and-wkar-teams-bring-home-5-emmys/). In October, the station was nationally recognized as the Noncommercial Station of the Year at the 26th annual NAB Marconi Radio Awards (http://cas.msu.edu/wkar-earns-national-recognition-including-top-radio-award/).
Following October’s achievements, CAS Dean Prabu David was quoted as saying that “WKAR is a key partner in offering internships and experiential learning that are integral to the educational mission of our college. A win for WKAR is a collective win for our students, our college and MSU.” (http://cas.msu.edu/wkar-earns-national-recognition-including-top-radio-award/)
Just a few months later, Dean David remarked the loss of WKAR would result in some “erosion” for the college. He said President Simon “has made a strong commitment to content production.”
Which leaves CAS students and faculty wondering what that strong commitment will look like. It’s hard to argue the loss of WKAR won’t affect CAS students, but perhaps President Simon has grander plans for the college. All that’s left to do is wait for Tuesday.