In May, the University of Connecticut’s radio station WHUS stopped broadcasting the program "Democracy Now!," a popular alternative news program that the station had carried for 12 years.
This decision led many listeners to demand answers about why the program was cancelled, and a few listeners even started a petition to have the program returned to the air.
"Democracy Now!" is an independent daily news program hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez.
The program’s website states that it “provides our audience with access to people and perspectives rarely heard in the U.S. corporate-sponsored media.”
Clay Colt, a 65-year-old resident of Hampton and owner of his own mail-order business, is one of the individuals who led the charge to get "Democracy Now!" returned to the air.
“It’s been on for 12 years and then all of a sudden it’s not,” Colt said.
Colt said that listeners such as himself were not given any formal notification that the program would be cancelled.
“I was used to tuning in at noon, it was on May 18 and then on May 19 there was a student music show on instead,” Colt said.
Danielle Chaloux is WHUS’s general manager and a senior at UConn majoring in French and resource economics.
“It was a bumpy transition, I’ll admit that,” Chaloux said.
A few days after the program was cancelled on WHUS, the station put on a PSA during the normal time slot for "Democracy Now!" informing listeners that the program would no longer be broadcast on WHUS, Chaloux said.
In June, Charlie Smart, the station’s Public Affair Director at the time, replied to an email Colt sent explaining the station’s rationale for ceasing to broadcast the program.
“The board determined that syndicating Democracy Now! did not benefit the student body through radio content or through training opportunities,” the email stated.
“My immediate response would be ‘then why did you have it on for twelve years?’” Colt said. “That’s a very long time for a program to last before you decide it’s of no benefit.”
The show was removed from WHUS’s lineup due to a lack of adequate staffing to ensure that the show aired on time every day, the email stated.
“The biggest issue is that we don’t have the personnel to continue airing the show and we want to devote more resources into producing local content and helping students get involved,” Chaloux said.
There is also a legal issue with airing Democracy Now! on WHUS.
“In 2015 there was a program that published an expletive, it put our license at risk, it’s not legal content to air, and we couldn’t receive any confirmation that it wouldn’t happen again,” Chaloux said.
After a period elapsed without any sign that the program would return to WHUS, Colt said he decided to take matters into his own hands and started a petition with Bill Potvin, which gained 720 signatures over the summer.
Additionally, Amy Shaw started an online petition at Change.org that has already reached 200 signatures. Many signers have also left comments on the petition.
One such comment by Travis Zuidema reads, “I have listened to "Democracy Now!' on WHUS for the past 10 years. In this critical election year, it is imperative that WHUS live up to its motto of ‘radio for the people’ and continue this vital public service of providing this unique voice to the people of Eastern CT and the students of the University.”
Last week, three concerned listeners, including Colt, attended at WHUS board meeting to voice their concerns.
“They gave us 15 minutes to present our case, we were the first thing on the agenda which was good,” Colt said.
Dr. Larry Goodheart, a retired UConn history professor and alumnus, was one of those who attended Wednesday’s meeting as a concerned listener.
“The university has a commitment to the moral and intellectual development of its students,” Goodheart said.
As an American History professor, Goodheart said he frequently used Democracy Now! as a part of his class.
“Democracy Now! brings leading people in terms of African American history right into the classroom,” Goodheart said.
Goodheart said that he values Democracy Now! as a program that brings attention to relevant human rights issues.
“Students need to know what’s going on, Democracy Now! on WHUS was an important outlet for that,” Goodheart said.
While people can still listen to Democracy Now! for free online, there is a possibility that the program could return to the WHUS airwaves.
If there were volunteers who were willing to receive the proper training to monitor the broadcast as it aired and ensure that it did not violate any of the FCC regulations by which the station must abide, the program could be revived, Chaloux said.
“As a student run organization, we are driven by the interest and commitment of our volunteers, we can’t do anything without them,” Chaloux said.