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Nothin’ but static: SG tunes out Spinnaker broadcast equipment request

Thanks to Student Government inaction, UNF is set to stay without a radio station for the indefinite future and remain in the Dark Ages. Photo courtesy Facebook.[/caption]

The FCC, after waiting for more than a decade, has finally granted Spinnaker Radio permission to build and broadcast a Low Power FM radio station to benefit the student body and the City of Jacksonville. But Student Government (SG) doesn’t seem to support the idea of a student-run broadcast station, even though UNF’s Board of Trustees are named as the license holders.

An LPFM station is a limited range radio station with a broadcasting radius of 3.5 miles — or 38 square miles. If built, Spinnaker Radio — 95.5 WSKR — could potentially reach an audience of more than 42,000 people (not including student commuters and residents of the new apartments, condos, and single-family homes being built along Beach Boulevard, at the Town Center, and in other places within the station’s broadcast pattern). UNF’s station could eventually expand to cover the entire Jacksonville metropolitan area.

In a budget committee meeting last Thursday, SG refused to even vote on the approval of $38,000 for the one-time cost of acquiring the required LPFM equipment. The issue was on the agenda. Spinnaker leaders and its advisor spoke before the committee. But no one on the committee said anything. The issue failed due to lack of motion. They essentially ignored the request.

Maybe it has something to do with new SG President Joseph Turner’s statement that he would not support SG’s funding for the LPFM station. Turner’s position on the matter is strange, seeing as the last four SG presidents completely and wholeheartedly supported the idea of a UNF-based FM radio station.

“I support the idea of the request and the end goal,” Turner said. “I just disagreed with how Spinnaker wanted to get there.”

When asked what he disagreed with specifically, Turner responded with: “The fact that they asked for [funding].”

It definitely has nothing to do with money, since the Activities and Service Fees SG controls increases every year and is currently at a budget of $4 million. That is what SG allocates annually to organizations all over campus — Spinnaker Radio included.

Of course, Turner has plenty of ideas on how to better spend that money. Instead of creating a permanent radio station that would make UNF seem to be that bigger university that we aspire towards, and that would reach out to the community UNF so desperately wants to incorporate, Turner wants to build a life-sized bronze statue of our “beloved” Ozzie Osprey.

That’s right, an Ozzie Osprey statue. Not the bird. The mascot… made of bronze. High-fiving.

How much does this statue cost? Supposedly somewhere around $39,000.

“I think of [the statue] as a campus wide pick-me-up, a way to engage students who otherwise hadn’t been engaged,” said Turner.

Engaging students with a statue? Either this is a poorly planned idea or a desperate attempt to reach out to already-disinterested students. But it is hard to see how an inanimate fixture of a mascot seen by a few thousand students maybe once a year — because the sad truth is that very few students attend our university’s sporting events — could really “engage students who otherwise hadn’t been engaged.” Most likely, the students who are aware of Ozzie the Osprey are already engaged, since they would have had to attend a sporting event to see Ozzie. But that is something few students actually do.

In a recent email to all students, Turner informed us that he “feels it is important to know what Student Government and my office is doing with your money.” What does he plan to do? The aforementioned statue is on the top of the list.

Another project of Turner’s is an “Osprey Cam” to stream a 24-hour live broadcast of an on-campus nest. Think of how proud alumni would be of that. Especially since Ospreys are rare on campus, and the nest would probably be invaded by geese.

Turner, in the same email, defines A&S fees as something meant to “enhance the experience of students” and notes that each student pays about $1,300 in A&S fees by the time they graduate. To this SG president, the idea of enhancement includes a bronze statue of Ozzie and a 24-hour live-cam of a bird nest. What it does not include is an alternative indie FM station for the University of North Florida and the city of Jacksonville.

“Every time we levy a fee, it’s really a tax,” said Turner. “We take this fee money from hardworking students, and we should be sure that it goes to a good cause. Not saying that this isn’t a good cause.”

This SG president, who was not elected – elections were cancelled because no one else filed to run for the position — thinks that hardworking students’ “taxes” should be invested in statues and live-cams of nests. This seems symbolic of the lack of pragmatic thinking on behalf of this administration. A&S fees fund clubs, student organizations, and other projects. Yet, it seems that SG is literally dying to find things to throw money at. A bronze statue and a webcam are up to par, but an LPFM radio station isn’t?

That leads to the question of why?

Perhaps Turner’s SG thinks the radio station would somehow be subpar. It seems unlikely, seeing as all departments of Spinnaker Media, including radio, have been nominated for or awarded national accolades. Maybe they think UNF doesn’t need a radio station. UNF and Florida Atlantic University are the only state universities in Florida that don’t broadcast a radio station over the air. It would be a strange attitude considering UNF’s obvious attempts to catch up to other state universities in clout and culture.

Maybe SG thinks that there are better things to spend the money on. They were happy to let Osprey Productions spend more than $100,000 on the Wiz Khalifa concert last semester — something that only 3,500 students attended, which is less than a quarter of our undergraduate student body.

Perhaps SG feels that Spinnaker should pay for it themselves. Turner, in a recent Spinnaker Advisory Board Meeting, asked why SG should pay for something and let the Spinnaker reap the benefits. Then again, why should Spinnaker pay for something and let the rest of the university reap the benefits? Thankfully, Spinnaker Radio would never follow in SG’s line of logic on this issue. The radio would be, as it has always been, free to use for both faculty and students.

Turner insists that the Spinnaker use its auxiliary fund in order to pay for the transmitting equipment. Auxiliary funds are typically used as emergency funds, in case of unexpected events. This is the second time that Turner has insisted on the Spinnaker using auxiliary funds. The first time was early this year in February when SG insisted that the Spinnaker use those funds to build doors on the entrance to the Spinnaker Media offices in the Student Union. If the Spinnaker were to use this budget which it saves in case SG decides to zero-fund UNF’s student media outlet — something it has done before — Spinnaker would be unable to continue operating as an organization and effectively have to dissolve.

So maybe SG just doesn’t like Spinnaker Media. It would make sense. After all, how can SG be called to view Spinnaker impartially as an organization when it is constantly questioned and investigated by that same organization? Transparency in government is always suggested – but only guaranteed – by the media.

Either way, the actions of our student body president (who, again, wasn’t even elected) could forever impede the development of UNF. It’s taken a decade for the FCC to open up applications for LPFM, and there is absolutely no guarantee that they will ever offer licenses again if the Spinnaker and UNF are forced to pass up this opportunity. LPFM has a limited number of channels that it can access, and they go quick.

If the Spinnaker misses out on LPFM, the only remaining option is to buy a true FM station. Those usually run around $500,000, which would most assuredly always be beyond the SG budget.

In short, if officials like Turner continue to hinder UNF’s growth in areas that will actively engage students and give them pride in their university. If he sticks to his guns and denies UNF this radio station, few students will never stop viewing UNF as anything more than a commuter school or way station to UF or FSU.

But at least they’ll have a bronze statue of its mascot and a 24-hour cam of a bird nest.

SWOOP, fellow Ospreys, SWOOP.

Email Alex Wilson at [email protected]

This story was updated on May 28, 2014 at 11:43am.

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