Indiana, PA - Indiana County

WDUQ to strengthen presence in county

by SAM KUSIC on June 30, 2011 3:00 AM

The joint venture that bought Duquesne University's public radio station, WDUQ, intends to move ahead with the station's plans to expand its broadcast range in Indiana County, station officials said Wednesday.

Before the station was bought, WDUQ had applied for -- and later received -- an FCC license to broadcast its signal on 88.5 FM via a tower in northern Indiana County. That license was among the assets included in WDUQ's $6 million sale to joint venture Essential Public Media, a partnership between Pittsburgh's WYEP-FM, a public station, and a nonprofit organization called Public Media Co.

WYEP general manager Lee Ferraro said Wednesday that the intention is to carry forward WDUQ's plan. He said WDUQ will be renting antenna space on an existing tower in the Marion Center area sometime by next spring and broadcasting on a 10,000-watt signal.

WDUQ can be heard in Indiana now, but the coverage is spotty. The antenna would extend the range to just about all of Indiana and beyond, going as far north to Interstate 80, Clearfield County in the east, and Armstrong County in the west, according to a coverage map on WDUQ's website.

However, what Indiana listeners will hear then won't be the WDUQ of today. The station, primarily a jazz station, is set to go off air, replaced by a new format under Essential Public Media and being broadcast on WDUQ's old frequency, 90.5 FM.

That format includes more National Public Radio programming and limited jazz -- six hours' worth on Saturday nights. It will, though, play rebroadcasts of jazz events highlighting Pittsburgh's jazz heritage and the current scene. It also will continue to produce JazzWorks, a public radio jazz program originating out of Pittsburgh.

The station plans to broadcast jazz around the clock on a HD Radio channel.

Ferraro said that with the sale, the station hasn't had a chance to think about how it might localize programming on 88.5 to Indiana County. So the plan for the time being is to simply rebroadcast the signal from 90.5 on 88.5

Indiana area listeners already are served by public radio and National Public Radio syndicated programming through IUP's radio station, WIUP; WYEP, in the places it can be received; and WQEX via a tower site out of Johnstown.

Zach Stiegler, an IUP communications media professor and WIUP's faculty adviser, said that the introduction of a public radio station, or at least one providing a strong signal here, doesn't hold any competitive issues for WIUP.

After all, WIUP's core audience is the university's students, he said.

"I don't imagine many 18- to 22-year-olds will be flocking to an NPR affiliate. Community listeners may very well find value in WDUQ's programming -- NPR's increasing popularity suggests wide audience approval. But I think that even members of the Indiana community who currently listen to WIUP won't abandon us for WDUQ's signal," he said.

But, Stiegler said he has broader concerns about the station's effect on the local media landscape.

"What we've seen happen across the country in the last decade is an explosion of FM translators, many of which extend signals beyond a station's initial community of license, and which air primarily nationally syndicated programming. Because broadcast spectrum is a limited resource, stations bringing in this kind of content can jeopardize opportunities for local stations to have a space on the dial," he said.

"That's not to say NPR programming holds no value -- much of it is high quality programming that audiences enjoy. But there is also often overlap within individual markets," Stiegler said.

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