The Day The Music Died At WNKU-FM

Feb 15, 2017

Valentine's Day will be remembered as the day the music died at WNKU-FM.

Sadly, it's over, as I had expected since Northern Kentucky University President Geoffrey Mearns announced 10 months ago that he would "explore the possibility of a sale of WNKU-FM and its assets."

After nearly 32 years of rockin' the airwaves to an adult album alternative (Triple-A) beat -- a unique blend of alternative, folk-rock, classic rock and bluegrass with a hourly dose of homegrown artists -- the university sold WNKU-FM (89.7) to a religious broadcaster, as I figured.

I just didn't see this exact one coming, the Bible Broadcasting Corp., the one that literally will stop the music.

Loyal WNKU-FM listeners were disappointed that I didn't champion the effort to save WNKU-FM. But I couldn't see any way to save the beloved non-commercial station. 

To me, it was obvious that when the university laid off workers, and faced a big state budget cut, the administration had to cash in a radio network losing $1.1 million a year.

Board chair Rich Boehne and NKU President Geoffrey Mearns at Regents meeting Tuesday.
Credit Ann Thompson

So NKU sold it to a religious broadcaster, as is often the case. That's what Georgetown (KY) College and Cedarville University did too.

Religious broadcasters are strong bidders for these non-commercial stations because they have money, studios and existing programming. They've got economics of scale. Unfortunately, that's the modern broadcasting world we live in today.

But there doesn't appear to anything modern about the Bible Broadcasting Network, based in Charlotte, N.C.

Don't expect the new 89.7 format to replace Counting Crows with Casting Crowns. You won't hear the contemporary Christian music you find on WAKW-FM (Star 93.3) or WNLT-FM (104.3). Or old or new gospel favorites.

The Bible Broadcasting Network airs Christian teaching and devotional shows called "Daily Bible Reading," "Bible Study Time," "Our Daily Bread," "Bible Quiz Question," "Prayer For Our Nation," "To God Be The Glory," "Words of Praise" and "News and Good News."

This news won't be good news for long-time listeners. NKU administrators knew that, which could be why the Board of Regents called an executive session for Tuesday morning without publicizing the purpose was to review offers for the station. Within hours, the deal was done.

True, NKU will keep the studio, studio equipment, personnel and WNKU call letters. Don't get your hopes up. WNKU-FM, as we know it, is gone.

A low-power campus station, like what Georgetown College now has, won't be the same.  And if Oxford's cherished WOXY-FM couldn't make it as an internet station, then don't count on a WNKU-FM revival online.

Hopefully, local radio stations will provide a new home for Pam Temple, the Real Mary Peale, Katie Laur, Mr. Rhythm Man and other WNKU personalities after the FCC approves the sale -- and the music stops.

Sadly, it's over. Membership payments were canceled Tuesday.

All that's left is to say thanks for 30+ great years, and that's what Aaron Sharpe, acting general manager, posted after the board meeting Tuesday along with this staff photo:

Aaron Sharpe (center), acting general manager, posted this photo Tuesday of his WNKU-FM staff.
Credit WNKU-FM

A note to our listeners and supporters:

Thank you for inviting us into your homes and your lives for the past three decades. It has been an honor to bring public radio and local music to the airwaves with your support, and we have enjoyed every minute of it.

You may have heard by now that our owner, Northern Kentucky University, has authorized the sale of WNKU (89.7 FM) and WNKE (104.1 FM). In these challenging financial times for higher education, NKU is no longer able to subsidize the operations of WNKU.

We expect that the WNKU and WNKE frequencies will be sold to new owners and that the FCC will approve the sale. Sometime in the coming months, once the sales are finalized, WNKU and its affiliated stations will go off the air.

Until that process is complete, our promise to you is that we will continue to discover new music, support local music, champion our community, and bring you cool new discoveries every day.

If you are contributing monthly to WNKU via a credit card, please rest assured that there will be no further charges made to your account. All membership pledge dues are cancelled, effective immediately.

If you have questions about this news, or about the status of your donation or pledge, please call us at (859) 572-6500.

Thank you,

Aaron Sharpe, Acting General Manager, WNKU

…and the entire team at WNKU

(Full disclosure: When NKU first indicated it was considering options for WNKU-FM, Cincinnati Public Radio contacted the administration to say it was willing to discuss the possibility of entering into a Local Management Agreement to operate the station, such as CPR has with Miami University for WMUB-FM.)