Plans emerge to save LCC’s radio station WLNZ

Lansing Public Media Center offers a potential solution

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WEDNESDAY, June 24 — Will the Lansing Public Media Center come to the rescue of Lansing Community College’s WLNZ, 89.7 FM? It might have to, and it will take help from volunteers too. 

LCC approved a budget Monday taking effect July 1 that doesn’t include funding for WLNZ, but LCC President Brent Knight — reacting to concerned calls and emails from the public — has declared that doesn’t mean the station will go off the air. LCC has a handful of options, Knight said. 

One sees the Lansing Public Media Center, a city government operation with largely independent funding, using its funding to cover $45,000 of WLNZ’s annual operating cost, which is about $250,000. The remaining cost is for salaries, which the Lansing Public Media Center could only cover if the city approved of any new salaried positions.

The portion the media center can readily cover would come from PEG fees. PEG stands for Public, Educational and Governmental. Comcast collects those fees from Lansing customers and passes them thru to the city to pay the media center’s capital costs.

“It’s required by law that the city can only use those funds for capacity-building and investments in public access endeavors. I look at it as dedicated funding, which is rare and precious,” Cochran said. “We have a sustainable funding source, so let’s invest it into this super valuable community resource.”

Because this option doesn’t come with a budget for salaries, WLNZ would in effect become a volunteer-run station, necessitating staff that are not only experienced, but generous and passionate.  Dominic Cochran, director of the Lansing Public Media Center, said funding for salaries could be raised through fundraising. The staff of the Lansing Public Media Center aren’t trained to run a radio station, so this team would have to come from elsewhere, Cochran said.

Knight confirmed that LCC is interested in a proposal by the media center, but declined to explain the other options in LCC’s pocket, saying they were credible but confidential. 

“There will probably be several viable choices to review in the coming weeks. I think the college will make a good choice, and I am very hopeful that it will all work out,” said Knight, who retires at the end of the month. 

While Cochran is trying to help pull some strings to see the station survive, he said he empathizes with LCC’s decision to cut funding to WLNZ — especially in the wake of the coronavirus. “I don’t blame LCC, they had to cut a huge amount because of the coronavirus. Unfortunately, music and the arts are always the first on the chopping block,” Cochran said. 

If WLNZ does go off the air, even temporarily, it would be extremely difficult to bring it back, according to WLNZ’s former station manager, Dave Downing, who is also the spokesman for a citizens’ group seeking a way to keep the station going.

“I consider it a valuable community resource and I don’t want it to go away. If you allow a license to lapse, it’s not an easy thing to get back,” Downing said, citing governmental red tape that is extremely difficult to overcome.

Downing was the station’s original manager, from its inception in 1994 all the way until his retirement in 2012. “Our main goal is to try to let the college know that citizens of this community consider it as a valuable resource,” he said. “The license is really something to cherish. You can’t say, ‘We can turn it off and come back later,’ the FCC will make it really difficult for you if you try to do that.”

In a phone interview with City Pulse, Knight said he recognizes the community’s concern.

“There are many people who appreciate WLNZ and we acknowledge that,” Knight said. 

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