Former Nashville radio station finds new life as low-power FM

By Tyler Falk of

 Heather Lose, right, with punk singer Exene Cervenka after an interview at the WRVU studios. (Photo: Heather Lose)

Heather Lose, right, with punk singer Exene Cervenka after an interview at the WRVU studios. (Photo: Heather Lose)

Founders of a forthcoming low-power FM station in Nashville, Tenn., aim to revive the spirit of a Vanderbilt University student-run station that went off the air in 2011 after the controversial sale of its broadcast license.

The student station, WRVU, switched to an online-only stream after Vanderbilt Student Communications, a nonprofit associated with Vanderbilt University, sold the station’s license to Nashville Public Radio for $3.3 million. The proposed sale of the station, which had aired on 91.1 FM since 1971, prompted WRVU’s fans and DJs to organize. A “Save WRVU” Facebook page drew more than 6,000 followers.

“From pirate radio to 14,500 watts of FM power, Vanderbilt University students quite literally built WRVU 91.1 FM from the ground up,” WRVU Friends and Family, the group that organized to oppose the sale of the WRVU’s broadcast license, said at the time. “ . . . The proposed on-air license sale would erase the 60 year combined work of 1000’s of students and community members.”

But the community effort failed to stop the sale. Nashville Public Radio began airing classical music on the signal, and WRVU has since been available only as a web stream.

WRVU Friends and Family then refocused their efforts on creating a new station. “When it became obvious that we were not going to be able to resurrect WRVU as a station at Vanderbilt, it was an obvious decision to continue working toward a freeform station that would remain true to the spirit of WRVU,” Heather Lose, president of the board of WRVU Friends and Family and a former host on the station, told Current.

In December, WRVU Friends and Family got closer to their goal when the FCC granted the organization a permit to broadcast a low-power, 100-watt signal on a new frequency, 101.5 FM. The new station, WXNA-FM, will also stream online.

“. . . [I]t’s important to reach people in their cars, workplaces, and in their homes,” Lose said. “And being a local voice allows you to really home in on topics that aren’t relevant to a noncentralized audience.”

The group plans to broadcast from a site north of downtown Nashville, reaching most of the city’s central core, according to a press release. It will have a freeform radio format similar to WRVU’s and draw inspiration from other freeform radio stations. Though WXNA will feature community volunteers, it will also accept applications for student DJs from local universities.

WRVU Friends and Family also intends for the station to be a community resource by providing community-interest programming and partnering with local nonprofits. It will also work with local schools and universities to provide a place for student DJs to hone their skills.

WXNA is now in the midst of launching its “full-court fundraising press,” Lose said, which will include crowdfunding, concerts and other events to fund the station. Lose hopes to raise $100,000 to “get on the air with good equipment, as much power as we can channel, and the ability to maximize our broadcasting capabilities.”

The station has 18 months from the FCC’s awarding of the construction permit to begin broadcasting. Creating a new terrestrial radio station will be worth the effort, Lose said.

“To be able to speak to our city and her residents about issues, help a local band get their music out, aid other nonprofit organizations in the work they do — to me, that’s radio’s highest purpose,” she said.