WAMU in Washington, D.C., will look to sell repeater station WRAU in Maryland after the board of directors of the station’s licensee agreed last week to a sale.
WAMU plans to sell the Ocean City station as part of “a strategic decision about focus and priorities,” said GM JJ Yore. The sale is not out of financial necessity, he said.
The board of American University, which owns WAMU, authorized the sale.
WRAU is located roughly three hours from Washington. “Those areas don’t really think of Washington as their center,” Yore said. “So the service we provide, I think, is inherently not targeted to them, not serving their interests.”
When WAMU launched local service on WRAU in 2010, former PD Mark McDonald told a local paper that listeners had lobbied WAMU to expand its reach into the Delmarva region. “There will be duplication, but our aim is to be distinctive in our local coverage,” he told the paper. WAMU did have an Ocean City–based reporter on staff for a time.
If sold, WRAU would be the last of auxiliary signals and services WAMU has unloaded in recent years. It transferred its Bluegrass Country station to another owner and sold WYAU in Fredericksburg, Va., in 2017.
“As we think about our future, I think our future is in growing digital audiences,” Yore said. The sale is part of a larger strategy at WAMU to invest in digital content and journalism, he said. WAMU purchased digital news site DCist last year.
The station is also investing $2.8 million in improving the reach of its main signal.
WAMU is “hoping that there would be a buyer in the public radio family,” Yore said. A broker valued the station at about $750,000, he said.
The signal overlaps with coverage areas of WESM in Princess Anne, Md., and with two stations operated by Delmarva Public Radio. A spokesperson for Salisbury University, which owns Delmarva Public Radio, said the university “does not plan to pursue” buying WRAU.
Interesting, since to hear the various Delmarva-area stations talk about WRAU, it would seem to be that WRAU was the schoolyard bully, walking around the cafeteria and stealing everyone’s lunch.
Obviously that’s a bit of hyperbole, but while there are pockets of enourmous wealth in Delmarva, there’s also a lot of poverty. And there’s been a very small pie to divide amongst the players in the region. So when WRAU came in and delivered a non-local but nevertheless very high-quality product? Especially since so many of the wealthy listeners were residents of the DC metro vacationing along the coast? That hurt the other players financially, quite a lot.
So why would WAMU back away from it? Presumably they feel there’s insufficient return on investment. WRAU was a pretty low-cost operation so it suggests the “pie” is even smaller than thought. That seems potentially ominous for Delmarva Public Radio, WESM, WDDE, etc across the region.
More on that subject here: https://current.org/2019/03/after-years-of-losses-maryland-stations-explore-collaboration-to-cut-costs/
Wrau/Wamu are the only ties i have to honest, straightforward reporting on Delmarva. I grew up in Montgomery County, md. When I first found Wamu, it was a godsend. Since moving to Delaware, npr is all I listen to. I hope we can get a signal from another public broadcaster.