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. The Federal Communications Commission has started an auction that will lead to the sale of the university’s stations, channel 32 and its unused digital channel–32-2. It is estimated that the sale of the station could garner between $185 to $500M. The decision is historic and could have a lasting impact on 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. This week Johnson Publishing announced the sale of Ebony and Jet magazines to a Black-owned private equity firm. If Howard decides to sell its station, it will be a sad addition to this growing trend and a blow to diversity in media.