Complaint filed over proposed WDUQ changes
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Although a group trying to preserve jazz on WDUQ-FM (90.5) has filed an informal complaint with the FCC to challenge a format change by the new owners, its leader acknowledged Tuesday that the action was probably a long shot.
"We all realized that it would be unusual for the FCC to intervene solely on the basis of programming," said Evan Pattak, chair of Jazz Lives in Pittsburgh, a new group formed to preserve the jazz format on WDUQ. "However, we've asked them to intervene because the circumstances are unusual."
He hopes the Federal Communications Commission will consider the complaint, but he aims mostly to keep public attention on the planned reduced airing of jazz.
"I think it will be effective in keeping the public aware of what we stand to lose," Mr. Pattak said. "As for FCC action, one would have to characterize it as a long shot."
Essential Public Media -- a joint venture of WYEP-FM and Public Media Co., a nonprofit launched by Public Radio Capital -- is buying the station from Duquesne University for $6 million. Two weeks ago, it announced a planned format change for the station, to go into effect July 1.
The change would increase airtime devoted to news and information, including syndicated National Public Radio, and reduce jazz aired by the station from 100 hours each week to six hours on Saturday nights. The station would continue to play jazz on a 24/7 HD channel and online.
Jazz Lives in Pittsburgh filed the informal complaint with the FCC on Monday, within the 30-day public comment period set up after the public notice of proposed license transfers.
Informal complaints can be made by the public without charges or legal complications, according to the FCC website. When necessary, the commission usually addresses these complaints within 40 days of the public notice of a license transfer, said Janice Wise, a spokesperson at the FCC.
Consumers may take legal action by filing a formal complaint within six months of receiving a response to an informal complaint from the FCC.
"We do not regulate content," Ms. Wise said of the FCC. "It's the licensee's decision to regulate content, not the FCC's. It would have to be a particular violation of FCC regulation."
She declined to comment on particular cases.
Monday's informal complaint marked the peak of a wave of protest from jazz listeners following the announcement by Essential Public Media.
The new HD and online outlets for jazz cannot compare to old-fashioned airtime, Mr. Pattak said. "Jazz is marginalized. To continue to receive jazz, listeners might need to purchase new equipment, and they might not be able to do it."
Even those with purchasing power might find themselves sacrificing, Mr. Pattak said. "We all like listening to jazz when we drive. That joy would be taken from us."
Observer Tom Taylor, news editor of the website Radio-Info.com, said of the informal complaint: "I don't think it'll change the final decision, but it will slow down the process. But the FCC just doesn't do formatting considerations."
Still, jazz is "a niche musical idiom," he added. "You do have to fight for things that you care about in this culture."
Dick Roberts, a spokesperson for Essential Public Media, declined to comment on Monday's filing.
First Published June 8, 2011 10:55 am