NKU may sell WNKU to balance budget

Posted at 1:38 PM, Apr 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-06 13:50:23-04

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. -- With significant budget cuts looming for higher education across the commonwealth, Northern Kentucky University may join a string of Tri-State universities that have sold off radio stations to balance budgets.

NKU President Geoffrey Mearns announced in an email to NKU staff Tuesday afternoon that the university will start looking into selling its WNKU radio station this week.

"I want to emphasize that this step is an exploratory one. No decision has been made regarding the future of WNKU,” Mearns wrote. "In these challenging economic times, and as we face the very real prospect of significant funding cuts from the state, it is our responsibility to align our efforts with our core mission: the education of our students.”

Twenty employees, including one student, could be impacted by the potential sale, according to WNKU General Manager Sean O’Mealy.

Georgetown College, Xavier University and Miami University have all made the same move in the past by selling off university-owned radio stations to stay in the black financially.  

The announcement comes less than a week after Gov. Matt Bevin ordered an immediate 4.5 percent budget cut to public colleges March 30, which Mearns said would impact NKU by nearly $2.2 million with the potential for additional cuts in the next two years.

University spokesperson Amanda Nageleisen said NKU's average annual subsidy in the past five years for the radio station has been $600,000. Last year’s subsidy measured in at $900,000 of the university's total budget of nearly $58 million.

This subsidy makes up a large portion of WNKU’s operating budget, which O’Mealy said also sees funding from member contributions, underwriting sponsors and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Nageleisen said the university will issue a request for proposals this week for a broker to explore the possibility of selling WNKU, a process she expects to take several weeks.

"This step is one that I do not make lightly,” Mearns wrote in his email. "WNKU has been part of our university and our community for more than three decades."

WNKU began broadcasting in 1985 as Kentucky Folk Radio and morphed throughout the years, eventually widening its range by acquiring much more powerful FM signals in Middletown and Portsmouth in 2011.