WDUQ prepares for next wave in selling process

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The real work of preserving WDUQ-FM as an independent public radio station is going on behind closed doors, as the group trying to preserve WDUQ and keep its programming intact begins a long, hard fundraising and public awareness task.

WDUQ management, Public Radio Capital, a Boulder, Colo.-based nonprofit that helps preserve public radio signals nationwide, and the Pittsburgh Foundation are exploring keeping the WDUQ format intact under new ownership. A nonprofit organization called Pittsburgh Public Media has been set up as steward for the effort.

"Pittsburgh Public Media and its board are engaged in confidential conversations with many different businesses, community organizations and institutions about potential collaborations," said WDUQ general manager Scott Hanley, who declined further comment.

Grant Oliphant, president and chief executive officer of the Pittsburgh Foundation, would say only, "We want to save local radio and strengthen local journalism."

"Right now nobody knows what's going to happen," said Charlie Humphrey, executive director of Pittsburgh Filmmakers/Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and Pittsburgh Glass Center. "The one thing that everybody agrees on is that we have to have a strong, viable NPR presence in Pittsburgh." Mr. Humphrey wrote a recent Post-Gazette op-ed piece on the WDUQ situation.

Other potential buyers could be nonprofit or community groups or religious organizations who would qualify to buy a public, noncommercial signal.

A confidential report prepared by CMS Station Brokerage for potential buyers values the WDUQ license at $12 million. However, some civic leaders have said privately that they believe the license's value is closer to $5 million.

WDUQ is appealing real estate, industry analysts say. Its 25,000-watt signal covers the metropolitan Pittsburgh area. In addition there are four translators, which extend the signal to Westmoreland, Cambria, Somerset and Bedford counties.

Recent transactions involving public radio stations around the country have ranged from as low as $500,000 to as high as $18 million for signals in larger markets, according to Public Radio, which lists the transactions it has been involved with on its website. The middle range sales figures are usually around $5 million.

Pittsburgh is a rich public radio market, with syndicated programming from National Public Radio, jazz and local news on WDUQ, classical on WQED and adult alternative on WYEP.

Among Pittsburgh's three public stations, WDUQ has the largest overall listenership. Its audience has been growing steadily over the past few ratings periods. In the most recent Arbitron ratings (January 2010) it had a 3.3 Average Quarter Hour (AQH) share among total listeners and ranked No. 14. WQED followed with 1.7 and WYEP with 0.7.

WYEP, an independent community radio station, is a model for what WDUQ could be. The station didn't have to raise money buy a signal, but it evolved from humble beginnings in a rented Oakland building to building its own facility, which includes studio and performance space, in 2006. The station raised the $3.5 million for the project through support from foundations and its listeners.

What will it take to make that happen for WDUQ?

"The board of directors is fundamental to success," says WYEP general manager Lee Ferraro. "You have to get that right at the get-go. Everything kind of flows out of that -- the fundraising, the vision for service to the community, thinking broadly and strategically -- that's the foundation of our success at WYEP. When you look at where we are now, you see what a great board of directors with a vision and mission can do. Without that it's always a struggle."

Adrian McCoy: amccoy@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1865; Marylynne Pitz: mpitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1648.


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