Much to the disappointment of many area listeners, Duquesne University’s Jazz stalwart in the Steel City will soon be all News and information programming. Essential Public Media, a JV between the city’s AAA WYEP-FM and Colorado-based Public Media Co. that’s buying WDUQ for $6 million, announced it is changing formats 7/1. The station will then air local, national and world news, save a six-hour jazz show on Saturday nights. A new, all-jazz format will be on the HD-2 channel, but not with same respected/revered hosts and programming. Their HD-3 channel is Blues.
The website for the new station — with unspecified call letters that will replace WDUQ — will feature news and jazz. A featured staple of the new station will be locally produced news and shows, including “Essential Pittsburgh,” an hour-long, daily interview and call-in program focused on issues affecting the region, and “Sounds of the City,” a weekly compendium of local stories.
“We live in an age where access to programming and content is all around us in many different forms of digital devices,” said Marco Cardamone, board chairman for WYEP and Essential Public Media told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “For the real jazz-passionate people who want more and deeper experience of jazz programming, that seems like a great solution. You can’t underestimate online streaming, which lots and lots of people are doing now.”
The future of jazz programming on the station selling to Essential Public Media for $6 million in cash and other considerations, has been the subject of much public debate since a potential sale was announced more than two years ago. WDUQ mixes NPR programming with more than 100 hours of jazz — about 60 percent of its programming — each week.
The announcement disappointed Evan Pattak, chairman of “Jazz Lives in Pittsburgh.” His group formed in April to try to preserve WDUQ’s jazz programming.
“The notion that somehow we need more news and less jazz to grow the station doesn’t make sense to me,” Pattak told the Tribune-Review. “There are a zillion places to get news. But there was only one place for jazz locally over the air, and that is largely going away.”
Four groups, including one of WDUQ staff and supporters, expressed interest in buying the radio station, said Duquesne spokeswoman Bridget Fare. One of those was not interested in keeping the station public or airing any jazz, she said.
“It could have been a different scenario with a different buyer,” Fare said. “While the delivery of the jazz portion is changing, the nature of it is still there.”
WDUQ, which started in 1949, has the most listeners of the city’s three public radio stations, followed by WQED and WYEP. Pittsburgh is one of two top U.S. markets without a full-service NPR station.
“The all-NPR news format has been incredibly successful where it exists in most markets across the country,” said Lee Ferraro, GM of WYEP, who has helped with plans for the new station.
Interim president and general manager of the new 90.5-FM will be Dennis Hamilton, who worked for more than 25 years with Minnesota Public Radio and is director of consulting for Public Radio Capital, the nonprofit sister of Public Media Co.
Other senior leadership and staffing positions are to be determined. Essential Public Media announced it received two grants of $250,000 — from WYEP’s strategic reserve and from a fund managed by The Pittsburgh Foundation. That is in addition to two grants of $1.5 million approved earlier by the Richard Mellon King Foundation and The Heinz Endowments, said The Tribune-Review.
RBR-TVBR observation: If the all-NPR news format has been so successful where it exists in most markets, according to Ferraro, then why not put it on WYEP? Seriously, WDUQ’s jazz recipe has quite a following in that city and they may find big problems at the next fund-raising. Nonetheless, locally-produced programming is a big plus, and they’re trying to keep a remnant of the original Jazz programming, along with adding Jazz on the multicast signal in some incarnation. Kind of sad to see a Pittsburgh icon go by the wayside, but Essential Public Media owns the station and can do with it as they please.