A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

NKU to explore possibility of sale of radio station, WNKU-FM, in face of looming state budget cuts

Staff Report

NKU President Geoffrey Mearns said in an email distributed campus-wide yesterday that the university will “explore the possibility of a sale” of its radio station in the face of “significant funding cuts from the state.”

Mearns said the question of continued subsidies to WNKU-FM had arisen in open forums on budget issues held across the campus in recent months, and that “after consultation with members of the Board of Regents,” he had decided to issue a request for proposal for a broker to explore the possibility of a sale of WNKU-FM and its assets.”
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University spokeswoman Amanda Nageleisen told the NKyTribune that “this step is exploratory, and no decision has been made regarding the future of WNKU. But in these difficult economic times and in the face of significant budget cuts from the state, we have a responsibility to align our efforts around our core mission: the education of our students.”

Nageleisen said that over the past five years, the average annual subsidy to WNKU’s operations from the University had been $600,000. Last year, it was $900,000.

“We have a responsibility to explore whether that subside is one the University can continue to afford, in light of our state funding picture,” she said.

Last week, Gov. Bevin announced an immediate 4.5 percent cut to higher education funding across the board. That amounts to $2.2 million for NKU. (That unilateral action by Gov. Bevin is being challenged by state Attorney General Andy Beshear. See NKyTribune story here.)

“This step is one that I do not make lightly,” Mearns said. “WNKU has been part of our University and our community for more than three decades.”

WNKU-FM began broadcasting in 1985 as one of the last available frequencies in the Cincinnati area. Since then the University bought three other stations in Ohio for $6.75 million in 2011. The purchase increased the potential reach of WNKU to 3.1 million listeners for its “Adult Album Alternative” format, according to Wikipedia.

WNKU’s website lists a network that includes 105.9 Middletown-Dayton, 89.7 Highland Heights-Cincinnati, and 104.1 Portsmouth-Huntington.

Leadership changes in 2015 also meant changes to WNKU’s format, increasing the focus on new alternative music and decreasing the heavy lean on folk and roots music. It included a new initiative to play at least one song by a local artist every hour.

Despite the signal expansion of 2011, however, station revenue has not kept pace with growing expenses.

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