WUVA sale: Video killed the radio station

Kailey Leinz, a fourth-year and WUVA president, says students are excited about the radio station’s switch to digital news coverage. Photo by Amy Jackson Kailey Leinz, a fourth-year and WUVA president, says students are excited about the radio station’s switch to digital news coverage. Photo by Amy Jackson

Folks at WUVA, the university’s student-owned radio station in operation for 70 years, announced January 17 that they were selling their FM radio license to a major radio group in town to endow their online video and news enterprise.

Purchased by Saga Communications for $1.65 million, the license and frequency will be part of the Charlottesville Radio Group, which owns five other radio stations in town, including WINA and 106.1 The Corner. Monticello Media also owns five stations.

In September 2015, WUVA listeners who turned their radios to 92.7 FM, then the only urban station in Charlottesville, were no doubt surprised by the country twang pouring out of their speakers. The station had hired manager David Mitchell to aid in switching to a format that would attract more listeners. The radio station also hired two on-air professionals and a professional sales force.

“It was run primarily by professionals and we began to look at it as a way to finance our digital operations,” says Ed Swindler, a WUVA alumni board member who worked for 32 years as an NBC Universal executive.

“That station sounds very good,” says Swindler. “I think, though, the issue that we have—and it’s the issue in all markets—is that despite what I would call a very successful relaunch, it was still difficult to compete as a standalone station.”

And its new presence as an online video and news source (wuvanews.com) will better prepare students for life after graduation, he says.

“Media is changing so rapidly,” Swindler says. “Digital video and learning to report and edit with video is a really important skill set for people being hired, particularly in journalism and news and the management of news. …Radio is less interesting to students than it was years ago, and we just have to modernize our operations and make sure that we’re forward-looking.”

WUVA President Kailey Leinz, a fourth-year, says students involved with WUVA, which will be keeping its call letters, are excited about the sale.

“The sky’s the limit right now as far as expanding our content goes,” she says, adding that the organization has discussed using the $1.65 million to build a studio for newscasts and to buy things such as high-definition cameras and equipment to record podcasts.

Although Leinz and Swindler agree that journalism is headed in a digital direction, the head of the Charlottesville Radio Group says radio’s still thriving.

“Let me put it this way—I don’t think the owner of the company would have invested more dollars in a radio station if they weren’t pretty happy with the current state of the stations they already own,” says Jim Principi, president and general manager of the Charlottesville Radio Group.

His group will soon initiate a study to evaluate other formats available in the local radio market, but says there’s a chance the new station will stick with country music.

Says Principi, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

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