Howard University has had the nation;s only Black-owned public broadcasting station for the past 35 years. The programming produced by WHUT has won Emmy Awards and has been the source of groundbreaking documentaries produced by Black filmmakers. Like many HBCUs, Howard University has had to deal with funding issues, staff cutbacks and infrastructure repair.
However, this could all change soon because of an offer that is currently on the table. Howard University has the opportunity to sell the station’s broadcast spectrum, which contains both Channel 32 and its unused digital channel, Channel 32-2. The university can participate in an upcoming Federal Communication Commission “incentive auction“ scheduled for March. It is estimated that the sale of the station could garner between $185 to $500 million. The decision is historic and could have a lasting legacy for Howard University, but the cost to the Black community may be too great. The loss of a Black-owned news media and public affairs outlet in the nation’s capital would be a tragedy.
The university outlined four possible options for the station that include selling, not selling or changing WHUT to a lower wavelength spectrum. Howard’s president, Wayne A.I. Frederick, stated in a memo, “Howard University must consider the significant financial opportunity presented with the Spectrum Auction. At the same time, we will consider the value that WHUT adds to the experiential learning opportunities for students and faculty of our School of Communications and College of Engineering, and the program and public service opportunities we provide to WHUT through our loyal viewers.”
Black-owned media outlets have been on a steady decline across the nation. If Howard decides to sell its station, it will be a sad addition to this growing trend.