Tony Nichelson laments the loss of an on-air home for local jazz lovers while wishing the best to WUMR stalwart Malvin Massey and the dedicated volunteers “who simply love Jazz.” (Courtesy photo)

Memphis – Let’s get right to the point: the ‘transfer’ of the FCC license, equipment, and operations of WUMR from the University of Memphis to the newly formed Crosstown non-profit group, is a business deal valued between $2 million and $3 million dollars.

That’s what it would cost you or me to go out and purchase a fledgling or small local radio station on the open market, lock stock & barrel.

In this current situation, it appears that a cozy relationships of top players led directly to “early discussions,” and finally to this incredible gift… a fully licensed, branded, historic Jazz radio station for literally “a song.”

Actually they got it for less than that.

As of January 2020, there were only eight dedicated Jazz radio stations in the entire country, and WUMR was one of them.  Longtime Jazz listeners and fans might remember popular Jazz stations like “The Oasis” in Dallas, or those in New York, particularly during its hey-day, 1978-1980. There are thousands of radio stations in the U.S., but only eight were dedicated to the history, preservation, and broadcasting of classic, straight-ahead, contemporary and fusion Jazz music.

That’s a small part of the legacy of WUMR, but so are the community volunteers who gave their best efforts for years, simply for the love of the game.

As one of those volunteers, I was honored to work with the best Jazz GM in the business, Malvin Massey, who captained the WUMR ship with limited resources for years, losing internal support after recent retirements and losses of the station’s longtime protectors.  This radio pioneer can speak for himself, but the station was starved for years, relying on Underwriting contracts, fundraising events, gifts from Jazz lovers, and burdened with sports shows in the middle of prime time.

The football and basketball teams paid little if anything to the station for the broadcasts, and recent departmental changes removed the remaining students who may have been interested in Broadcasting.  This is what Malvin has been fighting (virtually alone) for the past few years… my words, not his.  This legendary broadcaster was not treated fairly in the shutting down and sale/give-away of WUMR.

So it is, that an historic Memphis radio station – with so many historic people and moments over the years – has been gifted to wealthy friends, and it remains to be seen what will emerge from the cozy nature of those involved in this decision.  Details are still sketchy and that should not be the case this far into the transfer process.

I was working in corporate radio when major stations were “flipped” overnight, promoted vigorously, and forced down the throats of former listeners.  It rarely worked when the so-called “JACK” format of literally every kind of music being programmed on the same station… the listeners has no idea of what was coming next.

Thus the need for radio stations offering “Jazz & More” formats.

The appearance of “deals” done behind closed doors, with results all but certain at every step of the process, leaves many Jazz lovers frustrated.  Hopefully the archive of Jazz music at WUMR will be protected and preserved.

There were other solutions of course, and sustainable funding sources; but the outcome was baked-in from the start… the Trustees wanted out of the whole thing, and the Crosstown folks wanted an attractive, useful addition to their portfolio.

Business, politics, music and education finally collided at the U of M.  All the best to Mr. Massey and the dedicated volunteers who simply love Jazz…