Sale signals end of era for Duquesne's WDUQ-FM

WYEP will move station to S. Side


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Duquesne University's board of directors agreed Friday to sell the license for National Public Radio/jazz station WDUQ-FM (90.5) to another local public radio station for $6 million.

The school accepted an offer from Essential Public Media, a joint venture of WYEP-FM (91.3) and Public Media Co. (PMC).

Duquesne, which put the license up for sale more than a year ago, will use the money to fund two academic chairs, stipends for graduate students and scholarships to students who increase the school's diversity. One of the academic chairs will be for an African studies program; the other will be a rotating chair that highlights the work of academics whose efforts advance the school's mission, which includes helping the poor and marginalized.

Charles Dougherty, president of Duquesne University, said the WDUQ call letters will disappear and when the deal closes, station employees "will no longer be employees of the university."

Marco Cardamone, president of the board of WYEP, said the South Side-based station has excess capacity in its new building, which opened five years ago, and can house the new station. The two stations, Mr. Cardamone said, will share back-office functions to save money.

Asked by WDUQ-FM staff member Kevin Gavin if the new station will offer jazz, Mr. Cardamone replied, "We don't really have specifics. We understand the legacy that jazz represents in Pittsburgh."

A key speaker at Friday's news conference was Susan Harmon, co-founder of Public Radio Capital. Ms. Harmon and Public Radio Capital helped WYEP broker the deal with Duquesne. Public Radio Capital has brokered more than $200 million worth of public radio sales since its founding in 2001.

Mr. Cardamone and Ms. Harmon said they are committed to improving local journalism as well as continuing to broadcast such National Public Radio programs as "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered." They also plan to continue the tradition of employing broadcasting and journalism students at the new station.

Ms. Harmon, who has worked in public radio for 35 years, said Public Radio Capital arranged a similar purchase when Johns Hopkins University sold WYPR-FM in Baltimore to a local community group in 2001.

But the Pittsburgh deal, she added, is groundbreaking because Public Radio Capital has launched a separate nonprofit, Public Media Co., to strengthen local public radio stations by building infrastructure and achieving economies of scale.

Dr. Dougherty said he hopes the deal will be complete by June, adding that he expects the public comment period to begin in April. Initially, university officials hoped the sale would bring $10 million to $12 million.

"We started on the high side. We met where the market is today," Dr. Dougherty said.

Asked how the deal will be financed, Ms. Harmon replied, "It is mostly cash. There are other considerations," she said, but declined to elaborate.

WYEP, Mr. Cardamone added, has talked informally with local foundations to gauge interest in supporting the new public radio station.

"The foundations have been on the scene from the very beginning. We need to build a sustainable radio station," Mr. Cardamone said.

Dr. Dougherty said the executive committee of the school's board of directors chose Essential Public Media's bid over a slightly higher offer by a local nonprofit, Pittsburgh Public Media.

Essential Public Media's ability to fund the acquisition, plus its track record in public radio, Dr. Dougherty said, "made them a stronger bidder."

Founded in 1949, WDUQ was the first public station in Western Pennsylvania. When National Public Radio launched in 1970, WDUQ was one of the charter stations to carry its programming. The station's news department, originally run by broadcasting and journalism students, evolved into a full-fledged professional local news operation and a link in the NPR news network.

Grant Oliphant, president of The Pittsburgh Foundation, called the result "a terrific deal" because it preserves public radio in Pittsburgh. He praised WYEP for its diligence in pursuing the deal and Duquesne University for agreeing to the lower price of $6 million.


Marylynne Pitz can be reached at mpitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1648.


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