After 5 Years of Planning UW Chancellor Pulls Back on UWave Radio’s FM Expansion

Only 6 months before deadline

As a UWave Radio alumni, I don’t know what to say about a university that refuses to expand a program in which students gain skills in business management, promotions, programing and technology while amplifying student voices. 

Mission Statement: UWave Radio is the campus-based community station of the Bothell area and beyond. We are a center for community engagement, a hub for underrepresented voices and music, an environment for professional development, and a catalyst for social justice.

The student led on campus radio station is dedicated towards bringing the voices marginalized groups to the forefront while also providing participants with real-world experience in radio station operations and management. The station was established in 2011, began online streaming in 2013, in 2014 students were given permission by the university to apply and were awarded their FCC license. We have been doing budget and operational planning for the past 5 years with the guidance and support of University faculty and staff from departments across campus including the school of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, Student Affairs, Information Technology, Budgeting and Planning, and Government Relations. I joined the station as a student in Fall 2014 and fell in love with the project, dedicating the majority my extracurricular time with the club until my graduation Spring 2016. I was heavily involved in UWave Radio. I began as a general member, was elected business director and then finally Station manager during my senior year. Since my graduation I’ve been supporting the station as an alumni, providing guidance to the current students involved. 

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to a pre-scheduled meeting with the faculty and administration that have been involved in the LPFM radio planning. My weekly mentoring with kids in Juvenile detention did not allow me to make the meeting time. Although I informed the organizer that I was available at that time on any other day, I was forwarded a number to conference call into the meeting instead. 

The subject of the meeting was securing the station’s place in the campus’ master plan. With our intentions being to go FM, I phoned into the meeting intending to discuss the FM tower’s final cost and building location as we move into the construction phase. 

After connecting via phone and going around the table of introductions that included several members of university staff and administration that I had worked with me throughout my two years with this project, I was actually excited everyone was coming together to discuss the station’s future. Many of those present advocated for the FM project’s success and spent time helping students organize. The meeting began with an unexpected and disheartening announcement that Chancellor Wolf Yeigh (who was not in attendance) has decided not to allow UWave Radio to install an FM radio station at UW Bothell, “If there are no questions, then this can be a short meeting,” the Vice Chancellor of planning and administration seemed to joke. My heart dropped as I was driving in rush hour traffic from the King County Juvenile Detention Center trying to get to the meeting in Bothell to state my case in person.

I immediately questioned the university’s reasoning for this abrupt decision. I shared my commitment to this project and argued that the students/alumni who’ve dedicated years of work to this expansion shouldn’t be disregarded. After sharing my discontent, I quickly realized that the university’s decision had already been made. Although the Chancellor “valued” and “appreciated” the students’ hard work, the associated risk and lack of independent fundraising were said to be the reasons why plans were cancelled. These reasons do not explain the abruptness of the decision, because the risk associated with students having FM radio access were the same when the university approved our filling the application in 2014, as well as when the university approved our extending our construction permit last year. In response to our lack of independent fundraising (which majorly depends on FM expansion), I led a team of students to show our commitment to fundraising independently by crowdfunding with USEED (an organization that specializes in fundraising with groups in higher education) in Spring 2016. In addition to this, we were also able to secure a $30,000 Washington State grant and a $5,000 grant from 4Culture. Students also collected over 500 signatures in only one week from community members petitioning the University of Washington’s Board of Regents to approve UWave Radio’s granted FM broadcast license. Support for the station was and continues to be overwhelming, funds needed for meeting the deadline are secured and administration admitted that the students had done significant work during this 5 year process. Yet there were none were in the room and a decision to abruptly stop their expansion had already been made. 

The situation was symbolic of the way university administrators make decisions against the will and benefit of students without any student input. The University of Washington Bothell prides itself on being the fastest growing institution in the state of Washington, but its hesitance in expanding the student radio station is disappointing. 

After student directors of the station received the news they were still optimistic, insisting on doing whatever they can to move forward, I and other community members are also supportive. How can we as students stop now so close to the finish line? What can we do to show our support for the expansion of student media? The nationwide trend of silencing student voices by limiting methods of output is saddening, across the country college radio stations, newspapers and other creative outlets are being dismembered. In 2015, even our own Husky Harold was forced out of the public sphere for lack of support. Student Publications groups value is seemingly decreasing in the eyes of university administrators as it is placed up against other on campus projects when attempting to secure funding. We can say no to this dangerous trend.

July 1, 2017 is UWave Radio’s deadline to go on air, student voices should be heard on 104.9FM, and as Bothell city grows into a robust suburb it is crucial that we take advantage of this rare opportunity to broadcast on the FM dial. In 2012 this small window was opened up by President Obama’s order allowing the Federal Communication Commission to open low-power FM bands to nonprofit groups in urban areas. UWave Radio was one of thousands of groups to apply, and our approval should have been seen as a success (not a risk) and a valuable opportunity for the university and future generations of students. Over 3 generations of students have passed the baton and led in this project, negotiating and planning over a period of 5 years has been dismissed in the final stretch of the last 6 months. This FM opportunity was the 1st time in over 50 years that community radio stations in urban areas like Seattle had the opportunity to apply for FCC licensing, and will likely be the last. As we go into this presidential era, we must not continue to allow the marginalized be silenced by authoritative forces. 

As an alumni that was a student leader in this project I feel extremely heart-broken by the Chancellor’s decision. UWave Radio provided me with a space as a woman of color to host a radio show, the Ladies Room, where I used the station as a platform to share my perspective about how women are represented in the media. I know there are countless students whose experience working with the station has positive long-term effects on their post-graduation success. Both of my two closest peers from UWave Radio are working successfully in professional roles in the radio industry today. Grace Lynn during my time was Promotions Director and later Station manager is now a successful Member Relations Coordinator at KNKX Public Radio. Lexi Jones, my co-host in the Ladies room is now a weekly host at Kauai’s KONG FM 93.5. This is why UWave Radio is a successful and robust project that should be allowed to proceed with this extremely rare and valuable opportunity to expand. 

UWave Radio Faculty advisor, Amoshaun Toft did ask if students could have the opportunity to speak with the Chancellor in person about the decision as he nor any students we at this meeting. It has not been agreed upon yet but Toft was told that students may be able to speak with the Chancellor if the meeting was focused on “concerns and responses”, indicating that no rebuttal arguments or pleads to continue with the project would be acceptable.

At this time support for the station is critical if we want to show our commitment to community radio and student media.

Here is where you can connect with UWave Radio’s online broadcast.

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About Amani Sawari

I am a University of Washington alum, Class of 2016. I graduated with my Bachelors Degree in two majors: Media and Communications AND Law, Economics and Public Policy. It's a mouthful but it illustrates how I have a hard time doing only one 'thing'. I am a writer, poet, singer, songwriter and much more. I enjoy sharing my experiences and perspectives with those who are interested and I am a proud member of the black diaspora!
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1 thought on “After 5 Years of Planning UW Chancellor Pulls Back on UWave Radio’s FM Expansion

  1. Amani you are a brilliant writer and no one could have put this in words the way you have.
    If UWave does not go on air as planned by July 1st 2017, everything will be lost and there would be no reason to continue the station only online. Without the LPFM aspect we will lose so much. The station will lose thousands of potential radio listeners and student participants, that live radio brings and students as well as the community will lose the free speech platform. As for me, I am involved with a LPFM cohort through the 501 Commons and this cohort allows me to network, receive one on one educational services from professionals in the field, and have the ability to attend many LPFM networking conferences. These benefits are not only exclusive to me, but all students involved in the UWave LPFM project.

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