The Johnson campus of Northern Vermont University. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

In December, Vermont Public announced plans to buy Northern Vermont University’s Lyndon radio station, which broadcasts at WWLR 91.5. 

The Lyndon station, which was formerly run by students, would be added to the public broadcaster’s 24-hour classical music network, according to Vermont Public.

“We look forward to welcoming new listeners who will now be able to enjoy the companionship of our locally hosted programming, and the sense of connection we bring to Vermont’s vibrant musical community,” Vermont Public said in the Dec. 16 announcement.

But a provision of state law could complicate those plans, at least temporarily.

Title 30 — a section of Vermont law dealing with, among other subjects, railroads, electricity and telecommunications systems — includes language governing the sales of a radio frequency. That language reads: 

“No instrumentality of the State shall sell, lease, or otherwise divest itself of ownership or control of radio frequency spectrum without prior notice to and approval of the General Assembly or, if the General Assembly is not in session, without prior notice to the Chairs of the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development and the Senate Committees on Finance and on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs and approval of the Joint Fiscal Committee, in consultation with the legislative Chairs already referenced in this subsection.”

Northern Vermont University — part of the public Vermont State Colleges system — could fall under that definition. A separate section of law, one concerning the legal framework for the Vermont State Colleges, refers to the university system as “an instrumentality of the State for the purposes set forth in this section.”   

The Vermont State Colleges “shall not abandon, lease, sell, or dispose of any of the institutions under its control unless that action is specifically authorized by the General Assembly,” according to that section. 

In an email earlier this month, Katherine Levasseur, a spokesperson for the Vermont State Colleges, thanked VTDigger “for bringing this to our attention.”

“We will be investigating this further with our legal counsel and with the legislature,” she said. 

Asked May 16 whether any language authorizing the station’s sale had made it into legislation during this year’s legislative session, Levasseur said the system’s legal counsel was still researching the law and its intent.

“They have advised that if we do need to engage in this process, we will bring it to the Joint Fiscal Committee this summer,” Levasseur said. 

Prior to the transfer, WWLR was a student-run freeform radio station, playing everything “from hip-hop to metal, from reggae to rock, country to contemporary,” according to its website.

The station broadcast in Caledonia County and part of Coos County, New Hampshire. 

In December, Northern Vermont’s dean of students, Jonathan Davis, told students the decision to sell was based on “more advanced learning technologies in the classroom, waning student participation, and ongoing costs associated with dated station infrastructure and (Federal Communications Commission) compliance.” 

The student radio station would shift to an internet livestream, Davis said in an email. 

On July 1, Northern Vermont University is slated to merge with Castleton University and Vermont Technical College to become a new institution, Vermont State University. 

Asked about the legal status of the sale, Vermont Public spokesperson Michelle Owens said in a Monday email that the broadcaster was “still waiting for confirmation from seller’s counsel.”

“As for the station status, the license has been transferred to us and it is currently silent while we make some technical adjustments and upgrades,” she said.

Disclosure: VTDigger has partnered with Vermont Public to share a reporter, starting in July.

VTDigger's education reporter.