Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Flat TVs are expensive; WMUB is priceless

An Open Letter to President David Hodge, Provost Jeffrey Herbst and VP David Creamer:

[On February 3, 2009], I attempted to attend the public meeting Miami University conducted on its planned lease of WMUB’s signal to WGUC and the cessation of local programming in Oxford. I managed to get as far as Loveland before the winter storm virtually paralyzed traffic on I-275. I suppose I was just one of many who were unable to be there but the trip was not in vane.

As I entered Ohio and drove west on the interstate, I picked up WMUB, which was providing excellent coverage of the weather on its newscasts and during breaks on All Things Considered. I noticed that Gary Scott devoted his fine program, WMUB Forum, Friday morning on the response to the storm, from a Butler County perspective. I’m sure WMUB filled the entire week with timely information about utility services, emergency shelters, road conditions, school closings and the like, all with a more rural flavor reflecting the region the station covers. Of course, this is precisely why WMUB should continue its current services.

WMUB holds a broadcast license to serve its community and that community extends far beyond the Miami University campus. It would be folly to presume WGUC, also a wonderful station, will fill this void.
Having worked at WMUB for 12 years and being a proud graduate of Miami, I know how the station has provided unique and comprehensive public affairs programming to address the region’s needs and challenges. The station won AP awards for its reporting on a water crisis in Oxford, a strike by teachers in the Talawanda School District, hunger and homelessness in Butler County, plant closings and job retraining, problems with the farm economy and others too numerous to mention. Under the leadership of former News Director Bob Long, the station broadcast election returns, candidate debates and special programs on key issues appearing on local ballots.

The above endeavors were not just important because of the exclusive service they offered but because they involved the education of Miami students. Student reporters blanketed the region, interviewing members of Congress and the state legislature, city managers, county commissioners, and citizens impacted by public policy decisions. For many, it was their first experience as news reporters and today they work at networks as well as local radio and TV stations across the country. The success stories are legion and phenomenal. However, those students who heard a different calling in life were the better for it, too. The traditional classroom walls of the university came down and students had opportunities for educational experiences they would not otherwise have had, were it not for WMUB. They would all tell you this if they had the opportunity.

As a former manager myself at two different radio stations, I can certainly understand the need to make sometimes painful economies in one’s budget. However, I’ve read the articles about WMUB and Miami University’s financial dilemma and I find considerable incongruity between these situations. As I understand it, here’s the problem in a nutshell. Miami University’s budget totals nearly $350 million dollars and it‘s facing a budget deficit of more than $20 million dollars. It costs Miami $200,000 more to operate the station than WMUB is able to bring in through grants, membership drives and underwriting.

So, it’s too expensive to continue running WMUB? Too expensive to provide the aforementioned community services to the region. Too expensive to offer students the type of “hands on” vocational training that has supplemented their classroom experience for decades. Two-hundred thousand dollars out of a budget that stretches into the hundreds of millions.

I reject this conclusion. Flat-screen TVs are too expensive. British sports cars are too expensive. A license to broadcast is an incredibly powerful and influential tool. It is priceless.

Finally, the decision to shut down local operations at WMUB is very unMiamilike. You’re giving up. You’re saying the University of Cincinnati, Ohio University, Kent State and others are all able to do things we can’t. They beat us and we simply can’t compete.

As a life-long lover of Miami sports, I’ve seen some lean years on the gridiron and on the basketball court. However, I’ve never seen a Miami team give up. Let’s not do it with WMUB, either.


--Dan, Morehead, KY


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