Dartmouth announces intention to sell commercial radio license for WFRD-FM

The sale will fully transition Dartmouth Broadcasting to online radio.

by Ben Korkowski | 7/9/21 5:00am

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by Olivia Morton / The Dartmouth

On June 22, Dartmouth announced its decision to sell its commercial radio license for WFRD-FM, known colloquially as 99Rock. 

The station was started as an AM channel in 1958, but in recent years, Dartmouth Broadcasting has seen less student interest in WFRD in favor of WDCR, the organization’s online radio station, according to interim advisor for Dartmouth Broadcasting Anna Hall. She also said that they have reported decreased revenues as a result of less favorable trends across the radio industry more generally. The last student-hosted show ended in the spring. Per the College’s announcement, proceeds from the sale will be used to support Dartmouth Broadcasting and WDCR. 

Dartmouth’s WFRD station has provided coverage to much of the Upper Valley with “a live morning show Monday through Friday and then rock music and syndicated shows the remainder of the day,”  Hall said. The 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. show is hosted by Chris Fazio, the station’s one full-time employee, who is also responsible for selling advertisements. Fazio directed a request for comment to the College. 

“We will miss Chris a lot,” general manager of Dartmouth Broadcasting Ray Crist ’22 said. “He has been wonderful not only as a morning show host, but also as a mentor to students, and a source of institutional knowledge and radio wisdom.” 

Although student listenership and involvement has largely transitioned to Dartmouth Broadcasting’s online format, the loss of Dartmouth’s commercial radio is likely to affect a larger swath of the non-Dartmouth community. According to Hall, the station records about 8,200 local listeners per week. 

Across the country, general radio listenership has been on the decline as other audio formats, such as streaming and podcasting, have taken hold. Financially, this lack of interest in radio has also meant that WFRD has frequently struggled to meet revenue expectations, Hall said. With a lack of revenue coming in, and keeping in mind FCC guidelines that do not allow a station to go off the air for more than 30 days without notice or 180 days with FCC approval, Hall said that Dartmouth administration saw “selling the license as an opportunity to support Dartmouth Broadcasting.” 

Dartmouth Broadcasting transitioned in 2010 from just maintaining an AM station to having an additional online format under the name WDCR. 

“On the online station, you are able to do a lot more creative content, and students are able to showcase themselves more authentically without the restriction of a typical broadcast radio format,” former Dartmouth Broadcasting general manager Connor Turner ’20 said.

Prior to this transition, student involvement in WFRD had also waned due to challenges students faced with regular involvement, unable to “commit to daily radio shows because of varying class schedules, off-terms and other commitments,” Hall said.  

The situation of college radio is not unique to Dartmouth, Hall said; many colleges have sold their commercial and non-commercial licenses, leaving few  that continue to operate commercial stations. One example Hall cited was Brown University, which sold its commercial radio station in 2017. She said that by fully digitizing operations, colleges hope to better both their financial situation as well as reflect the preference for digital listening and streaming.

From the perspective of those who have been involved in producing the radio, the announcement symbolizes a big change. 

“I think WFRD meant a lot, to not only some of the current students who were involved in WFRD, but also alumni who have been involved. It’s definitely going to be a big change for the radio because the station has had two channels over the last 45-plus years — so now, having one will be definitely different,” Crist said.

Turner said he felt similarly, noting that the station has given students the real-world broadcast experience they might not necessarily get through online radio. 

“It’s just a shame that 99Rock is no longer going to be a part of Dartmouth radio, because I know being on the airwaves really does inspire people to get into this business, whether it be sticking with broadcasting or branching out to other things like podcasts or journalism,” he said. 

The prospect of a sale, however, has always been in the back of many Dartmouth Broadcasting members’ heads. 

“I think a lot of us knew deep down that this announcement was coming, as much as we didn’t want it to happen,” Turner said. 

The recent announcement has also brought many of Dartmouth Broadcasting alumni back into the conversation. Hall said that they are hoping to continue to engage alumni in the broadcast industry to provide internship opportunities to current students. She added that some Dartmouth community members have even come forward since the announcement potentially interested in purchasing the license.