Student-run radio station KJHK finds better fit

Manager cites hostility from journalism school, looks forward to working with KU Memorial Unions

KJHK, Kansas University’s student-run radio station, is about to change hands.

As early as the first of the year, the station will be transferred from the journalism school to the KU Memorial Unions, pending final approval by the unions’ board of directors.

That’s music to the ears of Meredith Vacek, the station’s manager, who said a strained relationship with the journalism school had made working at the station difficult during the past few years.

“I’m nervous because it’s a change,” she said. “But we’ll be around people who want to have us instead of people who are hostile toward us.”

James Gentry, dean of the journalism school, has said for several years that KJHK, which broadcasts at 90.7 FM, doesn’t fit into his school’s mission.

Though the school stresses media “convergence” — the need for reporters and editors to be trained in several types of media — it focuses mainly on television and newspaper work. Gentry said there weren’t enough radio news and sports jobs available to justify offering a degree in radio journalism.

KJHK’s operating budget — about $71,000 annually — comes from student fees and corporate sponsorships. The journalism school spends about $100,000 more in the equivalent of two full-time faculty positions to oversee the station.

“I love KJHK, but I don’t want to have to pay for it,” Gentry said. “The new curriculum doesn’t put much of an emphasis on radio, and virtually none of the KJHK students are journalism students now. It didn’t make much sense for the school to pay for this.”

After considering several options for KJHK’s future, officials with the journalism school turned to the Kansas University Memorial Corp., which runs the Kansas and Burge unions.

D.J. Kelly Bumpas, Kansas University junior from Wichita, left, and Ebony Simon, aka LeftE.

David Mucci, the unions’ director, said the station would fit into other programming the unions do for students, particularly the programs administered by Student Union Activities.

“This fits into what we tend to work for here, to create an environment to support student activities and expression,” Mucci said. “Independents (radio stations) are dropping off all across the country. It would be a shame to lose that in our community.”

The fact KU leaders were willing to transfer KJHK’s administration to another campus entity — instead of letting its Federal Communications Commission license drop — was a sign students had been successful in running the station, he said.

“If they were a problem, a black eye or irresponsible, it would have been a no-brainer to say, ‘Here’s a legitimate excuse to get rid of them,'” Mucci said.

The Memorial Corp. board will discuss taking over KJHK Saturday at its meeting. Mucci said one issue would be finding money for an adviser to the station. He said he might ask Student Senate to fund the position.

Vacek, the station manager, said KJHK listeners shouldn’t tell a difference if the administration was switched.

She said for students pursuing a career in radio, the change may represent a lost opportunity to learn more about the field. But students will still learn about areas including play-by-play sports, radio production, public relations and Web design, even without taking classes.

“Everybody involved would be hard-pressed not to learn something,” Vacek said. “They could have easily levered it to give more students more experience.”