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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

WUMB: A brief history and comparison to its sister radio stations

The+logo+to+the+radio+station+which+was+started+by+students+in+1968.

The logo to the radio station which was started by students in 1968.

The University of Massachusetts Boston’s radio station, WUMB, has focused on folk and roots music since 1982. They have since gathered a large, supportive fan base.
“We’re funded by members. So what we do in the programming department now is the roots and Americana-type music that’s all supported through membership,” said Patty Domeniconi, the station’s director.
The station has roughly 7,000 donors, and according to the station’s financial statements for the 2012 fiscal year, donors contributed $476,975.
The station didn’t always run in its current format. WUMB came into existence in 1968, when a group of UMass Boston students convinced the administration to let them set up a broadcast on a closed circuit piped through the PA system. One of those students was Patricia Monteith, who was with the station from the beginning in ’68 until last May, when she retired.
As station manager, Monteith was the driving force in turning the station, a student and volunteer-run concern, into a venue for professional DJs with a heavy emphasis on folk and roots music.
The transition began in 1982 when, after 14 years of students campaigning for an FCC license to broadcast on FM, the station was finally granted one. In a May 22, 2006 Mass Media article, Monteith talked about the transition to the folk format after WUMB received the license.
A Cambridge-based folk music station, WCAS, went under. The owners of WCAS said the station was “not financially viable.” About 18,000 people petitioned the FCC to keep the station running. Monteith saw a ready-made audience.
“We were able to make the case that people who liked folk music might support our radio station because they didn’t have an alternative. This was true, and we were able to pay back the loan in three years with listener donations,” said Monteith in the 2006 article.
The UMass Boston Student Government Association had pulled funding for the station, but because administrators saw the potential of a ready-made audience, the Chancellor’s Office gave an $85,000 loan for the station to be built.
The station was still primarily student and volunteer-run until 1986, when it went to a professional staff after becoming affiliated with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). The station also became part of National Public Radio (NPR) and American Public Media (APM), and airs syndicated shows from the two media organizations.
After this, the affiliation with CPB student participation began to dwindle. For a time between 1986 and 1988, there was a closed circuit student-run radio station, WOSR, just like the one in 1968, but financial troubles kept it from continuing.
Research found the first time anyone on record questioned WUMB for not being a student-run station was in the editorial section of the Mass Media in Nov. 1, 1994. One part of the article states, “The radio station exists within the comfort of a university setting without serving the university community. Its programming does not reflect the musical or cultural tastes, nor does it address the issues that most concern the people here.”
Similar editorials are peppered throughout the Mass Media archives. In a Oct. 2, 2006 op-ed, someone wrote, “Allowing a campus resource in the public interest like a radio station to become the private reserve of a small group of professionals with limited tastes in music to the exclusion of its base community is unacceptable.”
In the past couple of years, Facebook users have called on WUMB to change its format to a student-run station. The Occupy WUMB group and Towards Independent College/Community Radio WUMB pages are both dedicated to this mission. The sites’ status updates pointedly question why WUMB is not a student-run station, taking jabs at WUMB programming and calling what they believe to be boring songs “clunkers.” (The Mass Media reached out to both Occupy WUMB and Towards Independent College but did not get a reply.)
While WUMB is a professionally-run station, every other UMass school station is not.
UMass Lowell has WUML, a 100 percent student-run station with a budget of $42,000 and a staff of 75 students. WUML’s budget comes from the Student Activities Fund.
UMass Amherst has WMUA, a student-run station that also has non-student volunteers doing radio shows. There are two paid professional staff members, an adviser, and a chief engineer. The staff consists of 75 students operating within a budget of a little more than $100,000. Half of the budget money is from Amherst’s Student Government Association, $40,000 is grossed during on-air fundraising, and $16,000 comes from underwriting.
UMass Dartmouth has WUMD, run with a combination of students, faculty, three full-time staff members, professors, and community members. The Office of Public Affairs gives $60,000 to the station, with another 20 percent coming from the radio tower rental income and a small amount from underwriting and membership fees. The staff consists of 24 students.
UMass Boston has WUMB, a professionally-run radio station with a student staff of 3 and a paid staff of full time and half time employees. The station’s total support in the most recent fiscal year was around $2,130,000: Subscriptions and members accounted for $476,975; grants: $136,665, public contributions: $288,371, general appropriation: $350,272, and indirect, in-kind, and other support: $779,441.
The $779,441 in indirect and in-kind fees is calculated using a formula created by the US Department of Health & Human Services. The formula calculates the workload the university provides for the station with assistance, guidance, and service in the areas of accounting, legal, purchasing, human resource, facilities management, and basic services and puts a monetary figure on the work. Other UMass university stations provide the same services for their stations, but do not include the indirect costs in the stations’ budgets.
The only money that comes directly from the school is the $350,272 from general appropriations. Of that money, around $67,000 comes out of the Education Operations Fee in each UMass Boston student’s tuition.
When asked about why university money should go to a station run by NPR, Vice Chancellor of Enrollment Management Kathy Meehan stated, “We see it as a marketing vehicle for the university, an asset, because it’s prestigious for a university to own a public radio station. It brings the university to the attention of the audience.”
The Mass Media asked numerous students at UMass Boston if they have ever listened to WUMB radio.
Most of the students asked didn’t even know what WUMB radio was. A number of students had said things like, ”No, but I heard they play folk music or something.”

“I wish it involved real students, then I would actually listen,” explains Nicole DiRenzo, a sophomore here at UMass Boston. According to an online survey taken at Excelsior College, less than 3 percent of the college student population listens to folk music.
Others have a different outlook, “I’m glad that it’s around. It bolsters UMass Boston’s reputation — subtle marketing — plus it gave me a chance to make some radio,” said grad student Caleb Nelson who had his project JFK 50 broadcast on WUMB almost two years ago. The student project won an Intercollegiate Broadcasting System award after Monteith submitted it to a competition.
Currently, WUMB is offering a chance for students to have their own internet channels.
“We’re going to be launching some student programs with some internet channels that we’re hopefully going to have students sign up and they would program,” said WUMB Interim Station Manager, Patty Domeniconi.
If interested, students can inquire at WUMB, which is located on the lower level of the Healey Library.