Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Station WRUF

Red Barber began his career in 
broadcasting at UF's station WRUF, 
In 1933, the State of Florida considered the sale of the Gainesville state-owned station WRUF (Radio University Florida) due to increasing costs of operation. The State of Alabama had, in 1932, sold its WAPI station for the same reason.  Senator Hodges, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, asked that a delegation be formed to make a trip to Gainesville to "examine the station, its investment or commercial income possibilities and report back recommendations to the Senate." 

The Resolution for the delegation, introduced by Senators Hodges, Gillis and Parrish, read:
Whereas the report of the Budget Commission recommends the discontinuance of the University Radio Station, known as WRUF, and the lease of the same to private parties, and whereas, this is recommended by the Budget Commission to save appropriation by the State for the continuance of this station, and whereas, it has been represented to the Chairman of the appropriation Committee that this station can not be leased advantageously at this time, if at all, and to fail to appropriate proper moneys for the continuance of this station will cause this station to lose its place on the air:  Therefore be it resolved by the Senate of Florida:  That a Committee of five Senators be appointed by the President of the Senate to visit at their own expenses the said Radio Station and make inquiry of those having charge of the same into the actual amount of money it would take by State appropriation to continue this station as it now exists and as a State activity and ascertain whether the operation by dividing its time with Commercial Advertisers and report to the Committee its findings in writing to the Appropriation Committee of the Senate so the Committee can be advised as to what is proper to be done in this matter and the expenses instant thereto.
An editorial had this to say about the situation:
And speaking of Radio Stations, its was brought out on the Senate Monday that the State-owned WRUF at Gainesville is a big money loser, and that its disposal should be considered... It is singular that the Jacksonville Station, WJAX, was once property of the Times Union.  That was in the early days of Radio development.  The Times Union owned the wave length and such mechanism for broadcast purposes as the day afforded. After a time it was decided to give the station to the City if it desired to take it and develop it... It goes without saying that today the Times Union would like to have WJAX back again, as would many other newspapers over the country which owned the original wave length and disposed of them after a time to private or public auspices.
The delegation, with Hodges as head, comprised of Senators MacWilliams of St. Augustine, Turner of Cedar Key, Parrish of Titusville, and Anderson of Quincy.  By special invitation, Senator J. Maxey Dell of Gainesville, attended inspections and the hearing.    

The committee arrived in Gainesville at 6 p.m. and immediately inspected the station.  At 9 o'clock the committee dined at the White House Hotel and "discussed operation of the station with Major Garland Powell, director of WRUF."  In the morning, they returned to the station for the hearing, which dealt with "the advisability of continuing operation of the station on state subsidy or leasing it full or part time to a commercial broadcasting company".  After the hearing, the committee visited points of interest on the campus. They were back in Tallahassee by noon and made no comment to the press.

On May 11, the committee urged the continuance of WRUF State Radio Station.  "The committee found the station to be a well constructed and well equipped station of 5000 watts, and that the cost of operation of such a station averaging 10 hours a day to be $281,100 annually.  The Gainesville station, however, operates 11 1/2 hours a day at a total of only $39,237, with part of the money going back to the students."  

The committee reported that "the station broadcasts crop reports, weather and police reports and like matters of value to the farmers and truck growers of the State."  It was important to keep the station because "one farmer out of every twenty in North Florida owns a radio set, and in the central and southern sections in the citrus and vegetable areas, one farmer out of every five owns a radio set.  These farmers check in through the station for market reports, storm and frost warnings daily."  In conclusion, the committee felt that "failure to continue that station would be equivilent to junking $109,521.70 of equipment, losing for Florida's strongest station its place in the air, and depriving farmers of valuable information."

Not all were happy with the decision.  A South Florida editorial entitled, "End This Disgrace," had this to say:
Seldom has this state seen such a pitiful white-wash attempt as that by a selected committee of the state senate to make it appear that the state radio station WRUF at Gainesville is a state necessity and entitled to an increase in its wasteful annual appropriation.  The report made itself ridiculous by attempting to have its readers believe that WRUF operated for $39,237 a year the same type of program that would cost a commercial station $281,000 to produce.  The report failed entirely to take into consideration the fact that the only useful function WRUF serves is the broadcast of weather and market reports, and that this is available only for the extreme northern and western part of the state.  
Because of the equipment and geography south Florida gets WRUF only with indifferent success.  As a matter of fact in some seasons, we cannot get it at all.  The best  reception for this station is in the Middle West, and why Florida should spend a lot of money to advise Middle Westerners of the price of beans and the condition of the weather is a profound and unexplained mystery.
The suggestion of the budget board should be followed.  That was to lease the station to commercial companies and reserve only so much time as is needed for the state.  Let the state stand on its own bottom, like other commercial activities.  It is time to put an end to the subsidizing by the state of such private money-making schemes as this station has produced, to the detriment of Gainesville and the disgrace of the rest of the state.
Age old arguments:  private enterprise vs. public investment, and one end of the state vs. the other.  Today the station is run by the University of Florida as "Sports Radio 850".  (The primary sources for this post are a series of clippings in Senator Hodges' scrapbook.)
The White House Hotel (where the delegation dined),
 originally built as a girls' dormitory for the East Florida Seminary
before conversion to a hotel, best known for its fine dining.  Demolished in 1962.
Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/155652

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