Tampa-area tandem facing technical tribulations


University of Southern Florida decided to buy WSMR-FM in Sarasota FL from noncommercial religious broadcasting group Northwestern College in order to provide freedom to its WUSF-FM in Tampa-St. Petersburg. But engineering problems are said to be preventing the plan from going into full effect.

The plan was to shift classical programming to WSMR so WUSF could concentrate on news/info programming. The deal was filed last August and closed in October, according to the St. Petersburg Times, but engineers are still working on making the full plan a reality.

“This purchase of WSMR and the format changes on both WUSF 89.7 and WSMR 89.1 will allow WUSF Public Media to significantly increase public media services for the people of west central Florida,” said JoAnn Urofsky, general manager of WUSF Public Media back when the deal was first announced. “We will be able to provide more programming options for our listeners and attract new listeners.”

Under the plan, WUSF would account for the fact that WSMR is not a true Tampa-St. Pete station by rebroadcasting it on a WUSF-based HD side channel.

According to the Times, things got off to an inauspicious start when the WSMR’s new antenna failed to fit the space allocated to it on a Clear Channel-owned tower. To top that off, the signal, when fired up at full power, was causing interference with Coast Guard emergency rescue communications.

Urofosky says that after much back and forth, Clear Channel and the Coast Guard are trying to hammer out a workable solution, and the stations are trying to remain optimistic.

The $1.275M cash deal for WSMR-FM was filed at the FCC 8/5/10. The sellers said it had support from local listeners, but not enough to prevent it running in the red with its noncommercial religious programming, particularly with the loss of major donors traced to the economic crunch.

RBR-TVBR observation: Whatever the growing pains of this noncom wedding, it is a deal that managed to buck two trends: The flow of stations away from college ownership, and toward religious ownership.
Much of the dealing in the past few years has involved stations going to religious noncoms, with Educational Media Foundation being the most prominent buyer. Such organizations have been happy to ply the waters on both sides of the 92 MHz noncommercial/commercial divide.

Meanwhile, universities have been parting with student-run stations on the theory that radio listenership is waning in that demographic and with an eye to repurposing money invested into entirely different areas.

However, this deal differs from the more controversial college deals, since both the buyer has been focusing on a general audience rather than the audience enrolled at any particular institute of higher education.

Note: Edited to clear up call letter confusion (of the author!). Thanks for the comments.