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KCOU seeks new transmitter through bill at MSA senate meetings

Wednesday, October 8, 2008 | 4:01 p.m. CDT; updated 3:10 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Jordan Stockdale, hip-hop/R&B coordinator for KCOU, shows his support for the station at Speaker's Circle on Wednesday. KCOU disc jockeys and staff gathered to support the station. KCOU has been trying to get funds from MSA and needs $30,000 for a new radio tower.

COLUMBIA — Putting to rest KCOU/88.1 FM staff's fears that the Missouri Student Association was out to kill the radio station, a bill was proposed Tuesday night at two MSA senate meetings.

In the meetings, senators expressed concerns about the bill, which would provide money for a new tower and transmitter for the station.

When Hudson Residence Hall closes for renovations at the end of the semester, KCOU, MU’s student-run radio station and an auxiliary of MSA, will no longer have access to its transmitter on Hudson's roof.

The bill is a culmination of several weeks of debate between KCOU leadership and MSA leadership. KCOU thought MSA was out to ax the radio station, and MSA leaders were concerned about the program and its direction. Now it’s not just a dispute between KCOU management and MSA leaders; MSA senate members and others who attended the meeting Tuesday weighed in on the issue for the first time. They also had questions about the station’s budget and overall management.

KCOU management laid out their problem with the help of MSA senator Josh Travis, who sponsored the bill.

Meeting attendees were insulted and frustrated by a campaign KCOU launched Sunday against MSA. One senate member said it was the first she had heard of the issue. The headline of a campaign flier read: “Student government wants to kill radio station and silence voice.”

The senators weren’t made aware of KCOU’s needs until this week, although talks with MSA leaders began in late September. KCOU staff explained that MSA President Jim Kelley had kept the issue behind closed doors.

“It was requested that we keep it under wraps,” said Joe Fessehaye, assistant general manager for KCOU.

KCOU leaders did not find Kelley supportive and began the campaign to show Kelley how many students care about the station, they said.

Kelley, who had discussed the bill with Travis, said in a phone interview that he had concerns about the program and its direction after the meetings last night.

“We are open to a continuing discussion with leadership at KCOU,” Kelley said. “If somebody can show me that it is a good investment for the students of the university, then it is an investment we will make. … Finger-pointing is not my idea of an honest debate and genuine dialogue.”

Kelley said he thinks individuals at MSA are trying to set up a meeting with KCOU.

Jonathan Hutcheson, program director and chief engineer at KCOU, said at the meeting that the flier opened up communication. He also said the campaign slogan has changed.

“Some of the verbiage has changed to basically express the following: Student government will decide the fate of your radio station and your voice in Columbia,” Hutcheson said. “The whole point of all this was to raise awareness and engagement, and really, this right here is the reason why we’re sitting in this room right now."

In the summer, MSA student advisor Farouk Aregbe explored the station’s options along with consultants from Clear Channel radio in St. Louis. Buying a new transmitter and tower and placing them on top of Schurz Hall proved to be the best option. Clear Channel consultants estimated the move would cost $30,000, Aregbe said. The required paperwork for the Federal Communications Commission was submitted over the summer after a study determined the new location would not interfere with any other broadcast signals.
 
Because of Hudson’s plans, KCOU is working on a deadline. Travis presented the bill Tuesday in response to a conversation he had with Frankie Minor, director of residential life.

“I said, 'OK, Frankie, whichever way we go, when do you need a decision by?'" Travis said. "And he said mid- to late October, so we’re running short on time."

“It takes two weeks for a bill to get through committee before it can come up for a final vote, so that puts us at passing this bill Oct. 15," Travis said. "Anything after that would fall short of when Frankie needs a decision.”

In the meeting, Hutcheson emphasized the benefits of the long-term investment of buying a new transmitter. He said a do-nothing option exists, and it has the most expensive price tag because MSA is still paying the Residence Halls Association for KCOU, which they bought in 1998 for $80,000. If nothing is done and KCOU stops broadcasting, it will lose its FCC license, he said.
 
The bill states that $30,000 would come from the $81,000 MUTV-KCOU equipment fund. MSA will not replace the money into the equipment fund; instead, KCOU will be responsible for raising 5 percent of its total budget in 2010 and 2011 and 10 percent of its total budget from then on. The MUTV-KCOU equipment fund is reserved to help with the costs of moving to the new Brady Commons when it is completed.

Attendees at the Operations Committee meeting expressed their willingness to solve the problem and wanted assurance that the leadership at KCOU was worth the investment. They asked for a business plan by Feb. 1. Attendees suggested some amendments to the bill and gave suggestions to Travis and the KCOU staff about how to get the bill passed. If the bill passes in the meeting Oct. 14, the full senate will consider the bill Oct. 15.

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