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Can you imagine a musical universe without REM? Or The Smashing Pumpkins? Or Nirvana?

Sure – everybody knows their music now. But back around 1990, nobody did.

Except college DJs.

Back when Grunge was young, it was called alternative music and – except for garages – there was only one place to find it. On ‘alternative’ radio stations – almost always found on your FM radio dial broadcasting from a local college campus.

That’s the legacy of UMass Dartmouth’s WUMD, 89.3 on our FM radio dial – and it’s coming to an end soon.

But it’s not a corporate entity swooping in to disembowel a station and fill it with right-wing garbage. Rather, it’s another darling of discriminating listeners and progressive-minded students.

The NPR Borg

NPR is killing this radio star. It’s something of a modus operandi for what some refer to sarcastically as the ‘public’ broadcaster. Especially fans of the Facebook page “The NPR Borg Assimilates Independent College Radio Stations.”

Last week, it was announced that Rhode Island Public Radio (RIPR) is buying WUMD for $1.5 million. It’s a deal full of goodies and cash for the university (read more here). And, RIPR states that the stronger signal will enhance its reach throughout Rhode Island – and the SouthCoast. Further, the WUMD we know will still live on as an Internet-only station.

Yet, this sort of feels like a “Sophie’s Choice” for many of us. Between all that we like best on NPR – like independent journalism and Innovation Hub and The Moth Radio Hour – and the pride we feel in having a great station like WUMD broadcasting its own thing right here from SouthCoast.

Reviving the “Old Colony Railroad” connection

It’s undeniable that further tying the region together – from the greater New Bedford area to the greater Providence, RI area – is a natural way to enhance its identity.

Boston is its own universe. Constantly going hat in hand to Beacon Hill isn’t a very desirable future. It’s time to think outside the box as a city and region to create a distinct cultural and economic profile for the future.

Binding together SouthCoast and Rhode Island in as many ways as possible – including public transportation – is a win-win for both. If you draw a line on a map from Cape Cod through New Bedford to Providence, and beyond to Connecticut and New York City, you open a I-195 and I-95 corridor that just makes sense.

So, anything which furthers that vision – like a media presence straddling the area – is all to the good.

If…if…if it all works out.

And if it doesn’t steal too much of what makes this area what it is now.

‘Favorite’ Now!

Sacrificing WUMD is a lot. It’s a beloved, funky, unique station. It broadcasts an amazing array of music – from jazz to world music. Also, it airs important issue-orientated programs like State of the Queer Nation and, ironically, the Media Project. Take a look at its schedule here.

To say the news wasn’t greeted enthusiastically would be an understatement. Like most college stations and fans of eclectic programming, WUMD has a passionate, loyal audience. And a dedicated staff who, according to a post on the site, have been told they are unable to comment on the deal.

That’s hardly a good sign for future collaboration between RIPR and WUMD personnel.

So, this will bear some watching and vigilance. WUMD 89.3 needs its listeners support – now more than ever and over the course of the next year as it becomes both a part of the NPR universe and an Internet-only operation.

Steven Froias