The sale price of Shaw University's WSHA radio station is revealed in FCC filing

WSHA radio's "Traces of Faces and Paces" co-host Frank Roberts, center, checks out U. S. Senate candidate Cynthia Brown's campaign button in 2002, after Brown appeared as a guest on the show at Shaw University
WSHA radio's "Traces of Faces and Paces" co-host Frank Roberts, center, checks out U. S. Senate candidate Cynthia Brown's campaign button in 2002, after Brown appeared as a guest on the show at Shaw University News & Observer staff file photo

An application filed with the FCC this week revealed the purchase price of Shaw University's radio station WSHA. Educational Media Foundation, a California-based non-profit organization, will pay $3.5 million for the station's 88.9 FM frequency, pending FCC approval.

In addition to the FM frequency, the sale price includes three station translators in Rocky Mount, Fayetteville and Lumberton.

Shaw announced the sale in March but declined to disclose the sale price. Dr. Paulette Dillard, interim president of the historically black university in downtown Raleigh, said the sale is part of a plan to overhaul the school’s Department of Mass Communications.

The Educational Media Foundation operates radio networks specializing in adult contemporary Christian music. According to a recent article in the trade journal Inside Radio, EMF's national Christian Adult Comtemporary K-Love format has 558 stations in all 50 states (including 239 via translators that offer it presence to the right of 91.9 FM in numerous markets), and 283 contemporary Christian Air1 outlets in 44 states (with 149 translators).

Criticism over the sale

The sale brought criticism from some Shaw alumni, like Kesha Monk, who told The News & Observer in March that the university is selling out its history "for a few pieces of silver." A movement to save the station was started in December with a change.org online petition, which to date has more than 2,000 signatures. Additionally, a group called Friends of Shaw University has also been outspoken in its criticism of the sale.

Bob Heymann, director of Chicago-based Media Services Group, says the $3.5 million sale price sounds about right.

"There isn’t a robust market for non-commercial FM stations in 2018 America," Heymann said. "EMF is a very disciplined purchaser of stations. They have a formula that they use to determine how much they are willing to pay based on the coverage of the station they are acquiring. In looking at this purchase specifically, EMF paid almost exactly what they have paid for other comparable stations recently."

Heymann, a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate who worked at WQDR and WCAR while in school here, and who has worked recently as a broker for local media group Curtis Media, said it was commonly known in the industry that the WSHA station "might be available" — and that these types of sales are not uncommon.

"There has been a growing trend of universities selling their FM stations due to a number of major factors," Heymann said.

The sale isn't yet final

The sale isn't quite final, though, and critics now have a window during which they can voice concerns to the FCC.

Coe Ramsey, an FCC attorney based in Raleigh, said once an application is filed with the FCC, there is a 30-day period for the public to comment before the FCC gives its consent for the sale.

"And once the FCC approves, it doesn't mean the sale has occurred," Ramsey said. "Just that there is consent for it to occur. A typical purchase agreement says terms are subject to FCC approval. Then the FCC gives its blessing to close the transaction."

In addition to the FCC public notice, Ramsey said Shaw University must also run public notices about the sale over the air and in local newspapers.

Shaw, the oldest historically black college in the South, founded WSHA in 1968.

WSHA's programming has been a mix of jazz, blues, funk, reggae, Latin, African and gospel music, plus public affairs programs. The station is run by a combination of students and volunteers.

Dillard said in March that the school will retain the WSHA call letters and plans to stream jazz online.

Another local college station with strong jazz programming is WNCU 90.7 FM, a public radio station operated by N.C. Central University in Durham. WNCU is an affiliate of NPR, PRI and Pacifica Radio, but the 50,000-watt signal doesn't reach all areas of the Triangle.

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