Jazz may return to local airwaves

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Pittsburghers may be hearing jazz on the airwaves again by early next year.

The nonprofit Pittsburgh Public Media, which owns a local online jazz radio station, has signed an agreement to buy the WVBC-FM (88.1) signal for $135,000. The station is owned by Bethany College in Bethany, W.Va., about 40 miles southwest of Downtown Pittsburgh. The plan is to use the 88.1 frequency to broadcast a jazz format in the Pittsburgh region.

The venture is a joint effort between PPM and PubMusic: PPM will hold the license for the new station and PubMusic will produce the programming.

PPM was formed in 2010 by a group of former WDUQ-FM staffers and community leaders who wanted to buy the station and preserve its jazz-and-news/NPR format. The reorganized four-member board includes original and new PPM members.

PubMusic operates the online Pittsburgh Jazz Channel (PGHJazzChannel.net).

The deal hinges on two things: the success of a $150,000 fundraising campaign and FCC approval of the sale.

The group has raised $15,000 so far from donors. Funds raised over the sales price would go to acquiring a new studio space. They need to raise the money by Feb. 1.

After PPM files an application for a license transfer with the FCC next week, approval of the sale could take three or four months.

The station could be on the air soon after the deal is approved, said Chuck Leavens, president of PPM's board of directors and chief executive officer of PubMusic.

The format will be jazz, using Pittsburgh Jazz Channel programming. The online jazz channel, which launched in September 2011, features former WDUQ evening host Tony Mowod, former WDUQ general manager Scott Hanley, along with John Lasanich and Bill Hillgrove.

They're looking at other possibilities down the road, including syndicated and specialty programming.

The prospective owners have not yet applied for new call letters.

The Bethany station will continue as an online stream and will still be called WVBC.

If the deal goes through, the new owners will have to boost the signal for it to reach all parts of the Pittsburgh area. The 1,100-watt station reaches to the South Hills and areas south of the city, including Washington, along with portions of West Virginia and Ohio.

"This station does not cover Pittsburgh the way we want to. But it is a start," Mr. Leavens said.

"We don't want to mislead anyone that it's going to be on the air strong in all areas of Pittsburgh" initially.

He said options include moving to a closer antenna; adding translators, which would extend the signal's reach north and east of the city; or buying another station.

"We have some signal issues, but we have to get the station first," he said.

The fundraising campaign will use the Jazz Channel for an online drive, along with mailing lists and social media to reach supporters, especially former WDUQ jazz listeners.

"These are numbers that are within reach," Mr. Leavens said of the $150,000 fundraising goal. "The Pittsburgh community has done this countless times for something they love and believe in. We know what it's like to do without the service."

Pittsburgh has been without a jazz station since 2011, when Duquesne University sold the former WDUQ -- now WESA-FM -- to Essential Public Media, a nonprofit committed to preserving public radio news and information programming in the Pittsburgh market. WESA expanded on the station's NPR and local news programming, but dropped the daily on-air jazz shows. It continues to air jazz on Saturday nights and on a 24/7 online jazz channel.

For information on the sale and ways to donate, go to www.pittsburghpublicmedia.org or call 1-202-370-6627.

lifestyle - tvradio

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


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