Pittsburgh Public Media clear to buy radio frequency for jazz station

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Pittsburgh is inching closer to having a full-time jazz station.

The Federal Communications Commission has approved the sale of Bethany College radio station WVBC-FM (88.1) in Bethany, W.Va. to Pittsburgh Public Media, the nonprofit that launched the online Pittsburgh Jazz Channel in 2011. The 24/7 jazz stream features several former WDUQ-FM staff members, including Tony Mowod and Chuck Leavens, as hosts, along with sports broadcaster and radio personality Bill Hillgrove.

The Bethany frequency and signal are being sold to PPM for $135,000. The money was raised through donations from listeners and supporters.

Buying WVBC means that the online channel can grow into a full-fledged over-the-air signal.

"We want to get on the air as quickly as possible," said Mr. Leavens, president of PPM's board of directors and chief executive officer of PubMusic, which produces the programming for the Pittsburgh Jazz Channel.

The goal is to fill the void for a full-time jazz format in the city left when WESA-FM (90.5) -- the former WDUQ -- changed owners and increased its NPR and news programming and dropped its daily jazz programs. WESA continues to offer a weekly jazz program, along with a 24/7 online jazz stream. A few local college stations, including WRCT-FM (88.3) at Carnegie Mellon University and WNJR-FM (91.7) at Washington & Jefferson College, offer some jazz shows.

The transaction must be completed in 90 days. The closing hasn't been scheduled yet, but Mr. Leavens said the group plans to do that in the coming weeks.

Mr. Leavens said the station could be on the air as early as April depending on how quickly a new studio facility can be built. The group is trying to raise an additional $100,000 for studio construction costs. "It's critically important that we get donations now so that we can move ahead," Mr. Leavens said. To donate, visit the group's website: http://www.pittsburghpublicmedia.org.

Initially, the station will have limited coverage of the Pittsburgh market. The West Virginia station's signal currently reaches south and west of the city. "We're looking to expand our coverage" into Pittsburgh and areas north and east of the city, Mr. Leavens said.

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Adrian McCoy: amccoy@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1865.


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