RI Public Radio Acquiring UMass-Dartmouth Radio Station

Jan 4, 2017

This map illustrates how buying WUMD will expand the potential audience of RI Public Radio.
Credit Aaron Read RIPR

Rhode Island Public Radio has inked a deal to acquire the radio station of the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. The purchase will increase the potential audience for the only public radio station based in Rhode Island.

Rhode Island Public Radio has agreed to pay $1.5 million to buy the license for WUMD, 89.3 FM. RIPR’s CEO and general manager, Torey Malatia, said the acquisition is important since RIPR currently owns just one of the three signals on which it broadcasts, 102.7 FM. RIPR also broadcasts on 88.1 FM in the Providence area, and 91.5 FM in part of western Rhode Island.

"Ultimately, what matters is whether we are here and we are permanent, and this gives us that lasting ability to move forward as the broadcast arm of Rhode Island [Public Radio] for the future," Malatia said.

While the addition of the 89.3 FM signal is expected to take months, RIPR will continue broadcasting on its three existing frequencies even after that.

Malatia says buying WUMD will double the potential reach of Rhode Island Public Radio within the Ocean State and the South Coast of Massachusetts, to 1.4 million people. The move is also aimed at improving spotty reception for listeners from parts of Providence to the East Bay. The deal requires approval by Federal Communications Commission.

Malatia said RIPR plans to spend an additional $1 million to move the transmitter for WUMD from North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, to Tiverton. He said RIPR's board will launch a capital campaign to pay for the costs of acquiring WUMD and to also invest in the station's digital infrastructure and its reporters.

"We don't know exactly how far this is going to go," Malatia said, referring to the reach of RIPR on the airwaves. "There will be areas that still need service, and we're going to have to find out what those areas are. But we're now in a place where we can fill those areas in with smaller stations that are actually easier to acquire and easier to maintain. That will allow us to be truly a statewide service. This is the beginning of a process, not the end, but it's a big step forward. It's going to make a huge difference."

WUMD, a student- and volunteer-run operation, will continue to exist as an internet-based radio station.

The acquisition includes plans for a new internship program for UMassD students, as well as other collaborations betweeen the university and RIPR, including public forums.

"This is a win-win-win for UMass Dartmouth, Rhode Island Public Radio, and the communities we all serve,” UMass Dartmouth interim Chancellor Peyton R. Helm said in a statement. “We look forward to a long and strong collaboration that creates new opportunities for learning and discovery, while providing scholarships to talented and hardworking students who might not otherwise be able to attend college.”

Yet not everyone was happy with the news. Some WUMD listeners said they're disappointed, even though the station will be moving to an Internet format, because they think its programming will be more difficult to get.

"WUMD is one of the best college radio stations in New England and this is another example of the big wigs trying to destroy one of the last bastions of independent media," Rob Duguay wrote on Facebook. "This will effect our wonderful local arts & music community in a negative way and it'll also have a bad effect on quality underground & independent bands looking for airplay."

A call to the station office at WUMD was not immediately returned Wednesday afternoon.

RIPR is the only public radio station based in Rhode Island. The station broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week, offering a combination of reports from RIPR's Providence-based newsroom, regional, national and foreign coverage from National Public Radio, and programming from the BBC and other organizations.

Malatia said UMass-Dartmouth will receive underwriting valued at $60,000 a year, for 10 years, as part of the deal.

This post has been updated.