By Jeanne Starmack
Two competitors over the fate of the Struthers School District’s radio station agree on one point — they don’t want the district to sell the station’s license.
The school board will decide whether to allow a broker to sell the license for WKTL, the district’s 47-year-old radio station.
With the decline of radio’s popularity, interest in the station and in radio classes at Struthers High School has fallen off.
Patrick Communications, a broker based in Maryland, gave the board a proposal in July on selling WKTL’s license.
That worried people who are interested in keeping the station’s Saturday ethnic programming going. The 10 programs would lose their free air time because whoever buys the license would not be obligated to keep that programing.
Two other options were presented to the school board Tuesday.
Tommy Bruno, general manager for WAPS The Summit of Akron, which has an agreement for simultaneous broadcasting over WKTL now, told the board The Summit would like to lease the license. The Summit would keep the ethnic programming, he said.
Frank Sole, an assistant professor at Youngstown State University who worked for WKTL when he was a sophomore through a senior at Struthers High School, urged the board not to give up control of the license. With the help of media consultant Max Grubb, he proposed the board continue the legacy of WKTL and let it become a community radio station. Not only the ethnic programs, but programming for other underserved segments of the community would benefit, Sole told the board.
Bruno told the board The Summit would like to enter into a public-service operating agreement with the district, assume responsibility of WKTL and reimburse all costs through a monthly lease.
He proposed moving the station and the tower off school property.
“We want to get you out of the radio business,” he said.
He said the nonprofit radio station is a public asset and its license would have to be auctioned “to an outsider.”
“It’s not the best time to sell in our opinion,” he said.
Bruno also said The Summit would give Struthers schools $30,000 worth of marketing every year and would set aside $15,000 to benefit the schools.
“What’s the advantage to you?” asked board president Sheri Noble.
“A bigger audience and a bigger footprint,” Bruno said. He also said that WAPS has made a difference in the Youngstown area and has a loyal following here.
Sole told the board that WKTL is a community resource that has impacted thousands of students.
“There’s a legacy here,” he said. “This is a gem we need to maintain.
He said that if the board chose to establish the station as a community radio station run by one paid manager and volunteers, programming could be 100 percent local.
“WKTL is the last chance the Mahoning Valley has to do something local,” he continued, adding that the content on other radio stations “comes from someplace else.”
He contended that even if The Summit leased the license, the content would be “50 percent Youngstown and 50 percent Akron.”
Sole and Grubb suggested the district could turn the station over to a board of trustees which would oversee its operations.
Sole contended the district will not make hundreds of thousands of dollars on the sale of the license, only tens of thousands.
He and Grubb said the district could choose to give the station startup money or take six months to raise funds through donations and grants.
“Then it doesn’t cost the board anything,” Grubb said.
“But what if it does?” said board member Dennis Spisak.
“Do we want to maintain a vital resource for the Mahoning Valley?” Sole asked. “If we’re talking about investing money, we invest in football teams and bands.”
“There may be some money involved, but is it worth it?” he continued. “Hell yes.”
Noble said the board “has a lot of information to digest.”