“A partnership between the university and Connecticut Public Broadcasting has been forced upon WVOF 88.5 and the students involved with it,” said Mark Gajda in a scorching letter of complaint to the Connecticut Post (June 24, 2008).

Angry Gajda continued his list of grievances with Fairfield University’s decision, which will allow WNPR, a radio station in Hartford, CT., to air programs on WVOF, dropping some student and community programming and turning it into a National Public Radio affiliate.

“Little care was given to the opinions of those who ran this supposedly student-run radio station,” he said.

The Fairfield student protests started last spring when the school decided to radically change campus radio station WVOF, dropping some programming and turning it into a National Public Radio affiliate.

Station manager Dan Grazynski ’10 said most members of the WVOF student staff protested at first hearing the possibility of the partnership.

“Even though we saw the benefits of the decision, the most important thing to us is air-time, which we would be losing a lot of with the decision,” Grazynski said in a July 2008 interview.

“The Captain,” which WVOF call 2008 graduate Gajda, is continuing the fight this summer with his angry comments on the change, which will take effect August 1. Other staffers have said the university is giving up a student learning experience in exchange for greater publicity with the off-campus community.

The announcement of the merger was made by Jerry Franklin, president and CEO of Connecticut Public Broadcasting, and Rev. Jeffrey von Arx, Fairfield University president on June 19th. Under the agreement, WVOF will broadcast the WNPR program schedule every weekday morning from 5 to 10 a.m. and every weekday afternoon from 4 to 6 p.m., as well as weekend mornings from 5 a.m. to noon.

Jerry Franklin, CEO of Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network said in a written statement, “We’re excited to partner with such a distinguished university. This will allow WNPR to extend its broadcast reach, while creating an ongoing opportunity to produce richer content for listeners within an enhanced educational environment for the faculty and students.”

WVOF has been trying to have a more prominent voice on campus and in the community with their FM station and live Web streams on their website, www.wvof.org With this decision, the airing of NPR shows is said to increase the numbers of listeners to the station, with popular programs like “Morning Edition,” “Where We Live” and “All Things Considered,” which can be heard on the Connecticut Public Radio station WNPR in Hartford.

WVOF also had trouble finding enough students to serve as disc jockeys and relied on off-campus community members for some airtime shifts.

The workings of the decision began in April, when Rama Sudhakar, vice president of marketing and communication, held a meeting with students explaining the possible partnership, and how it may be a way to increase funds and listeners.

“WNPR is a quality organization. Anytime someone like that approaches us with potential partnership, we take their ideas into great consideration,” she said in a July 2008 interview. “College radio gains from this stimulating quality programming.”

Students, though, like Gajda have said they were angered that the merge of the stations was only made known to the students who worked for WVOF’s central staff in April, four months after Sudhakar and others at Fairfield University started conversations with Connecticut Public Broadcasting.

“The fact that the university and Connecticut Public Broadcasting had been in talks for several months over this matter but only decided to inform the students a month before the semester ended reeked of suspicion,” he said.

However, Sudhaker said the choice was made with the students in mind.

“The key is to protect the student programming and to ensure that students can actively participate and gain from the partnership,” said Sudhakar.

Beginning in August, WVOF’s airtime will be split into thirds – one going to NPR, one for community members, and one for students.

Dan’s brother Dave Grazynski, who graduated from Fairfield in ’04 and works as the WVOF advisor, is hoping to have a “fruitful relationship” with NPR.

“We need to focus on the positives,” he said. Changing radio landscape Over the last 10 years, the average share of Americans listening to radio at any given time has shrunk about 14 percent, or 2.3 percentage points, according to a recent New York Times article. College radio is especially suffering from new technology like the commercial-less XM or Syrius radio devices, podcasts, and the ever-so-popular Ipods that turns any average college student into his or her own disc jockey.

Fairfield’s neighbor Sacred Heart University has dealt with the problem of dying college radio over the years by creating two separate radio stations on campus. WSHU, a NPR affiliate at Sacred Heart, is owned by the university and run by professionals who work at the station full-time. WSHU 91.1 FM, which services Connecticut and Long Island, New York, and has on average about 240,000 listeners a week, hires 6-8 students a semester as interns or through the Work-Study program.

There are no volunteer spots for students at WSHU, yet many interested students volunteer at the other station on-campus, WHRT 91.5 FM, which is an independent student-run station that is only heard on campus.

However, there weren’t always two separate stations on Sacred Heart’s campus. WSHU was the first to air in 1964, and was originally run by the Diocese of Bridgeport.

Over time, the students became the owners of WSHU’s airwaves and in the late ’70s, Sacred Heart University almost took the radio license away because of students’ misconduct on the air, causing embarrassing representations of the university.

George Lombardi, the current General Manager of WSHU, said that faculty and staff, at that point, came up with the idea of the current WSHU, which would serve “loyal audiences” in the community, and would be better at representing the University.

In an interview in July 2008, Lombardi said the influence at WSHU has been positive ever since, as they bring big names to campus for student lectures and give interns a “professional learning experience that they can bring to the student-run station,” as well as letting the student have more freedom at WHRT.

“At WSHU, students learn that the radio is not a toy, by gaining true experience through working with professionals and gaining contacts in the process,” he said. Students at WSHU work as board operators and news reporters, but never run shows themselves.

Getting ready for the new WVOF

Although the NPR tie works for Sacred Heart, WVOF is in a different situation, students say, because it is the only station students have as of yet to air their own shows at Fairfield.

“Because WVOF is so important to everyone who works here, the decision was definitely a wake-up call,” said Dave.

One positive Dave Grazynski pointed out was the ability to hook listeners to student shows after popular NPR broadcasts.

“Once NPR programming ends, we will have lots of listeners of the air,” he said. “I think that’s a really huge benefit to us.”

Besides having influence on the air, Sudakhar said WNPR is looking to create a news desk in Dolan Hall that should be a “tremendous resource” for students.

Dave wants the change to show to students that people are in fact listening to the station, which he feels WVOF students sometimes forget.

“We’ve always been the club under the stairs in the BCC,” he said. “Now that this deal has been made, students and other community members may say, ‘Hey. I wonder what they are doing over there.’ We’re hoping the decision may renew interest, that is.”

Dave says that next year’s goals for the station is to get as many freshmen involved that want to be, and to make sure current members “don’t feel like they are getting cheated,” he said.

“I think over time the students will understand that this is an opportunity,” he said.

Sudhakar agreed, saying that “students should use this opportunity to reexamine the current programming they offer. Assuming they will have a bigger audience from NPR programming, they will have an opportunity for students to have larger audiences.”

Still, the voice of the angry Mark Gajda looms over the whole debate.

“This ‘partnership’ was made trampling over students’ wishes and requests. It is another blow to college radio in general as more and more schools hand over their broadcast towers to outside sources,” he said.

“We as students and employees of WVOF felt that the university not only overlooked us, but treated us in such a matter that it disgusted us all.”

Although he admits to being angered when he first heard about the school’s decision, Dan Grazynski is willing to see both the benefits and losses from the decision.

“We can be mad all we want, but we have to look forward and not behind.”

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