Essential Public Media fleshes out vision for WDUQ | Slag Heap

Essential Public Media fleshes out vision for WDUQ

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[Editor's note: Earlier today, the folks who hope to run the new WDUQ-FM released a statement about their plans for the station, which we summarized here. As part of the effort to roll out their vision, execs with Essential Public Media have been meeting with reporters today. Our very own Chris Young sat down with them and filed this report.] 

WDUQ's would-be owners plan to transform 90.5 FM into a news-heavy station dedicated to in-depth local reporting and NPR programming -- while directing jazz listeners to the Internet and a HD radio channel for their music fix.

Officials with Essential Public Media, which is in the final stages of acquiring WDUQ's frequency from Duquesne University, met with reporters today to outline plans for the new station, which they expect to officially launch July 1. They emphasized that the new format will provide Pittsburgh with a "full-service news footprint," including a local interview program and expanded NPR programming.

"We've done extensive research, and what we've learned is that Pittsburgh is one of only two cities in the top radio markets without a full-service NPR news station," EPM chair Marco Cardamone told City Paper. "There are stories that are not being told."

To help fill the local-news void, Cardamone says EPM is currently developing two programs: Essential Pittsburgh, a daily, hour-long interview/call-in show focused on important issues affecting the Pittsburgh region; and Sounds of the City, a weekly feature program broadcasting an "audio collage" of sound bites and stories local people and institutions.

(Cardamone says Essential Pittsburgh will sound more like an NPR interview program than, say, Marty Griffin's daily talk show on KDKA. "We abhor the whole celebrity news and the partisan yacking," he assures.)

In addition to those two programs -- more will eventually be developed -- Cardamone says EPM will dedicate more time and resources to reporting local news. Rather than merely reading headlines from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he says, reporters will be tasked with delving deeper into local events and issues.

"How many times have you listened to a story on WDUQ and said, 'Now what's the story behind that?'" he asks. "Our local news objective is to beef up what is already being offered."

As for NPR, Cardamone says, 90. 5 will carry "all the shows you know and love" -- Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Car Talk, This American Life -- "and a lot more."

Jazz programming will be expanded from 100 to 174 hours per week under EPM ... but only six of those hours will be heard on 90.5 FM. To hear the rest, listeners will either have to visit EPM's Internet audio stream or purchase an HD receiver so they can listen to jazz 24/7 on an HD channel.

According to Cardamone, six hours of jazz will air on 90.5 Saturdays from 6 p.m. to midnight. He says the weekly program will likely feature live concerts, including shows hosted by Manchester Craftsmen's Guild Jazz. The HD channel and the Internet stream, on the other hand, will broadcast "more of what you already have on 90.5."

"There's more jazz overall," he says.

Still, many listeners might have difficulty tuning in. Not everyone has access to the Internet, and picking up the HD channels requires a special receiver.

EPM is offering a "voucher program" to help current WDUQ members purchase a receiver. But Cardamone says it's too early to say how much money EPM will contribute to the voucher program.

Cardamone says HD receivers can be bought for as little as $25. And with the help of the voucher program, he says, accessing the HD channel could be really cheap for listeners. "For the price of a CD, we're offering listeners access to jazz they love" 24/7," says Cardamone. "We think that's a great thing."

For EPM, the switch to a news-heavy format simply made sense. Splitting programming between news and jazz, as WDUQ currently does, "ultimately sends a confusing message to the audience," Cardamone says.

"To be reliable and trusted," WYEP General Manager Lee Ferraro adds, "you have to do [one thing] all the time."

Focusing on news, they add, should also ensure financial support from local foundations, which have long been interested in more local news as opposed to jazz.

EPM has selected Dennis Hamilton to be the station's interim President and General Manager. They hope to find a full-time GM in the next few months, but staffing at the station is still up in the air. Cardamone and Ferraro are, in fact, still unsure as to how many total employees will be part of the news operation.

News programming will be augmented with resources from Duquesne University's journalism program, whose students will have internship opportunities at the new station. EPM also plans to work with "PublicSource," a foundation-backed news outlet that Cardamone says "will do long-form, investigative stories.

"We will help give voice to those stories, even co-produce them, and they will take some of our stories," he adds. "There will be an exchange of content so that instead of being competitive, we can be cooperative."

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