WJHU's untapped potential

Radio daze: It's not too late for Johns Hopkins to realize the full value of its NPR news station.

March 20, 2001

THE JOHNS Hopkins University says it's only looking into the sale of WJHU-FM. So maybe there's time to consider some other alternatives, too.

Here's one: How about developing the National Public Radio station to its full potential?

WJHU is a community asset. It's thoughtful, provocative and informative. Even as commercial talk radio has deteriorated into shouting and demagogy, WJHU has upheld civility without ruling out liveliness and the vigorous exchange of ideas.

The Baltimore region could reap huge benefits if Hopkins, a great university, explored the untapped programming opportunities of WHJU, instead of soliciting proposals for its sale.

Unfortunately, all this talk about a sale is likely to make Hopkins realize it's sitting on a gold mine.

In 1982, when Washington's Georgetown University got tired of running a radio station, it sold the license for $1 to the University of the District of Columbia. But when that city-operated college ran into financial trouble four years ago, there were so many takers the price quickly rose to $13 million.

Baltimore is not Washington. But since educational stations can be sold and converted into commercial or religious broadcasting stations, their prices have skyrocketed. With the new Republican administration, Federal Communications Commission regulations may become even more flexible.

Instead of starting a bidding war, Hopkins should look into developing WJHU into a powerhouse of programming production with syndication potential. Other NPR stations -- like WBEZ in Chicago, which produces the popular show "This American Life" -- have done that successfully.

Hopkins might need a skilled production partner to achieve that goal. But such partners exist.

In fact, Michael Bloomberg, chairman of Johns Hopkins' Board of Trustees, is an expert on such cooperative ventures. That's one of the ways he grew his financial news service into a billion-dollar media empire.

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