Online jazz channel by WDUQ expats finding its rhythm

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PubMusic and its online jazz station Pittsburgh Jazz Channel are gaining momentum. The online music service will mark its first anniversary this summer, and the fledgling organization is looking forward to more growth in year two.

The demise of jazz on the former WDUQ-FM left music listeners without a full-service jazz format station, but it spawned two local online outlets for jazz.

Essential Public Radio took over ownership of WDUQ -- now WESA-FM (90.5) -- in July 2011 and switched to an all-news and information format, trimming its daily jazz programming to a Saturday night block. It added a 24/7 Web stream and HD channel for jazz.

The online music service PubMusic was launched two months later by a group of former WDUQ staffers, headed by Chuck Leavens, who wanted to preserve jazz radio. The air staff includes several former WDUQ staffers, including Tony Mowod, John Lasanich, Scott Hanley and Mr. Leavens. It's programmed by former WDUQ program director Dave Becker, who now lives in Nevada.

"We were a work family [at WDUQ]," Mr. Leavens said. "There was no turnover. It wasn't just a job. It was something that we all believed in deeply. Sticking together like this has been a tremendous opportunity to take it further."

Pittsburgh Jazz Channel (www.pghjazzchannel.net) plays traditional mainstream jazz, with a mix of classic and newer artists. The format is aimed at both casual and devoted jazz listeners.

"The model was designed to bring people who may not be jazz people into jazz," Mr. Leavens said. "The people who were jazz aficionados, they would already know the pieces. We're using more accessible kinds of music" designed to make new listeners enjoy jazz.

The channel logs about 300 listeners in any given hour, he said.

PubMusic plans to launch other formats, starting with an adult album alternative, or AAA, channel. They're beta testing the new AAA format with a handful of public radio stations, including KWGS-FM in Tulsa, Okla.

Other planned PubMusic formats include jazz vocals, Americana and blues channels.

Although the Jazz Channel is online-only here, its programming is now airing on public stations around the country. PubMusic has picked up several affiliates, including stations in New Orleans, Detroit, Philadelphia and Long Island. Most use it to complement NPR news programming or to augment classical music formats.

That pits it against Essential Public Radio on another level. When Essential Public Radio bought WESA, it also acquired JazzWorks, a 24/7 syndicated music service that uses WESA's jazz hosts, including Bob Studebaker and Helen Wigger. JazzWorks plays a mix of classic and contemporary jazz.

Some JazzWorks affiliates are switching to PubMusic's Jazz Channel when their contracts run out. Jazz syndication is a competitive and increasingly crowded field. In addition to JazzWorks, there's the Jazz Satellite Network, launched by Chicago's KPLR-FM in 1997. Another newcomer -- Jazz24 -- is programmed by KPLU-FM in Seattle/Tacoma.

Adding affiliates creates a new income stream for PubMusic, opening the potential to add more hosts, and paying the ones who are working gratis. "They're starting to get paid as we grow," Mr. Leavens said.

The project is sustained solely by listener financial support. So far, income is exceeding expenses, Mr. Leavens said. "I'm in awe of the response of the public. The response of the community has been tremendous."

tvradio

Adrian McCoy: amccoy@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1865. First Published June 17, 2012 12:00 AM


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