Lansing Community College’s WLNZ radio station might be taken over by Michigan Radio, should the college follow the recommendation of a task force it formed late last year.
The fate of the radio station has been an ongoing drama since the college’s approved fiscal budget for 2020 did not include any funding for the radio station, which last operated at a cost of $360,000.
When word got out that WLNZ could be on the chopping block, a group of local radio aficionados — including former WLNZ station manager Dave Downing and City Pulse publisher Berl Schwartz — formed the citizen advocacy group, Lansing Community Radio, with the hopes of raising enough of a ruckus to sway LCC from nixing WLNZ.
After the group pleaded with the college through public Zoom meetings to seek alternatives to shutting down WLNZ, former LCC president Brent Knight said that the station “wouldn’t go dark.” Knight’s replacement, Steve Robinson, who happens to have a background in college radio himself, at one point working for The Impact, WDBM 89FM, at Michigan State University, also decided to engage the public before making a final decision regarding WLNZ.
LCC then opened the floor to requests for proposals, ultimately receiving only two submissions. One came from Lansing Community Radio; the other was provided by Michigan Radio.
Lansing Community Radio’s proposal is to essentially convert WLNZ into a volunteer-run community radio station with content that is entirely locally produced. Under its plan, a partnership would exist between Lansing Community Radio, the Lansing Public Media Center and LCC. The media center would cover the capital costs necessary to keep WLNZ afloat using its access to PEG fees. PEG is an acronym for Public, Educational and Governmental. These fees are collected from Lansing customers by cable company Comcast and are then passed through to the city of Lansing to help fund public access endeavors such as the media center.
The plan also includes establishing a nonprofit corporation to raise additional funds necessary to operate the radio station, and the eventual transfer of ownership of WLNZ and its operational costs to Lansing Community Radio.
Michigan Radio is an Ann Arbor-based nonprofit public station owned by the University of Michigan with a massive reach across the state. If you’ve ever tuned your radio to 91.7, you’re surely familiar with its extensive news coverage.
According to Seleana Samuel, senior VP of business operations at LCC, Michigan Radio’s proposal detailed a 24/7/365 simulcast of its programming, potential options for weekly local programming on WLNZ, sponsorship credits and opportunities to engage LCC students. The proposal is cost neutral and also includes the immediate transfer of management responsibilities from LCC over to Michigan Radio.
LCC announced its task force recommended Michigan Radio’s proposal at a May 24 Board of Trustees meeting. The task force also recommended that LCC utilize its resources to host a 24/7 internet stream station that would be used to support LCC-specific programming and host local content provided by local community members. Though the task force has made its recommendation, Samuel said there is much more to be done before LCC reaches an ultimate decision.
“Additional work and conversations must take place in order to finalize plans for WLNZ and internet radio at the college,” Samuel said.
Dominic Cochran, manager of the Lansing Public Media Center, attended the virtual Board of Trustees meeting and provided public input in support of Lansing Community Radio’s proposal.
“FM radio is one of the most accessible forms of media that exists. To keep content as locally relevant as possible is important to a community,” Cochran said.
Cochran said he was told firmly by Robinson during the meeting that the college was still poring over its options.
“There hasn’t really been a resolution to the situation yet. They have reached out to schedule meetings, which is encouraging. It sounds like they are still willing to collaborate on some level,” Cochran said.
Though Cochran would be greatly disappointed, he said WLNZ being acquired by Michigan Radio isn’t the worst possible scenario imaginable — especially compared to the station being shut down altogether or being taken over by an entity that has nothing to do with Michigan-related affairs whatsoever.
“I do think it would be a loss. WLNZ was volunteer-driven. Anybody who had an idea for a show could generally get a timeslot. That kind of thing is rare and precious,” Cochran said.
Cochran mentioned the possibility of one day purchasing another available radio frequency in order to create a community radio station entirely independent of WLNZ and LCC.
Jeremy Whiting, general manager of Impact 89 FM, and supporter of Lansing Community Radio, stressed the value of local radio content. If LCC does hand the keys to WLNZ to Michigan Radio, he hopes there’s still space for the local content that made the station special to the community.
“If that’s the route LCC goes with, I’m hoping it’s able to come to some sort of agreement to keep community programming on the airwaves in some fashion,” Whiting said.