Foundations withdraw their option on WDUQ

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The Pittsburgh foundations that bought a 60-day option on the sale of WDUQ last month have withdrawn their nascent bid for the public radio station. The group sought to recast the NPR News and jazz station as a public media news service for the Pittsburgh region, but recently decided that there wasn’t enough time to complete its analysis and solicit community feedback before the July 2 deadline. The Heinz Endowments, one of four community foundations involved in the planning, announced the decision yesterday.

Duquesne University wants at least $10 million for WDUQ, the city’s most-listened-to public radio outlet. It’s unclear whether any bidders are willing to pay that amount. Public Radio Capital, which is representing the community-based group that wants to preserve WDUQ’s existing service, has said the university’s asking price is way too high.

On a blog soliciting community feedback on the future of WDUQ and elsewhere, supporters of WDUQ’s music programming have been questioning whether the foundations “get” the significance of jazz in the city’s cultural life and heritage. “Public radio should be about preserving the regional character of the markets it serves,” writes Peter King, a Pittsburgh musician and music writer, in a letter to Current. “The rush to copy successful formats in other cities is depressingly reminiscent of the herd mentality that has made commercial radio so homogenous.”

Foundation leaders may still play a role in determining WDUQ’s future, judging by their statements: “[W]hile the option has been withdrawn, the foundation has not backed away from its interest in saving WDUQ as a vital public radio resource serving the broad Pittsburgh community,” wrote Grant Oliphant, president of the Pittsburgh Foundation, on the foundation’s website. “Our view has not changed that WDUQ is a critical part of Pittsburgh’s media landscape.”

“We’re pulling out of the option, but we’re not giving up our interest and support for a quality public radio station that delivers the NPR programming and what we would hope would be enhanced news and information that the community could really respond to,” Doug Root, spokesman for the Heinz Endowments, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Bridget Fare, spokeswoman for Duquesne, said the university will return half of the $50,000 the foundations paid for the option. “We still do not plan on acting on any proposal before July 2,” she told the Post-Gazette.

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