WYEP, Public Radio Capital forge joint venture to purchase Pittsburgh’s WDUQ

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Pittsburgh’s NPR News and jazz music station WDUQ is to be sold for $6 million to a joint partnership of WYEP and Public Media Company, a new local ownership and operating entity established by Public Radio Capital.

The sales contract is half the price that the license-holder Duquesne University sought to earn when it put WDUQ on the market last year. “It’s a market issue,” said Dr. Charles Dougherty, president, during a Jan. 14 news conference. The university started with the “highest possible asking price,” as any seller would do.

The final deal, approved by an executive committee of the Duquesne University board, strikes a balance between providing cash to invest in the university’s academic programs and preserving the station and its 60-year history as a community service, Dougherty said. [News release]

The aspiring licensee is Essential Public Media, a partnership between WYEP and PRC’s new nonprofit, Public Media Company. It intends to expand the news offerings of WDUQ, which now splits its broadcast day between news and music.

The deal provides some accommodation for jazz music lovers, but officials at the news conference said programming decisions are yet to be made. “The framework is set, but specific format details haven’t been resolved,” said Marco Cardomone, chair of the WYEP Board. His station will retain and even “beef up” its Triple A music format, he said.

The contract establishes an employment and internship program for Duquesne students at the new station, but WDUQ managers and staff will lose their jobs when the sale closes. “We’ve informed them of this decision and are counting on their history of professionalism to see us through the transition,” Dougherty said, referring to the station’s staff.

Public Radio Capital, a Colorado-based consultancy and broker for public media stations, describes Public Media Company as “a natural outgrowth” of its work to help local stations acquire new outlets and strengthen their services. The nonprofit will be led by managing director Ken Ikeda, who is stepping down as head of the Bay Area Video Coalition to take the job.

Editor’s note: This blog post has been corrected to describe the relationship between Essential Public Media, the licensee bidding for WDUQ, and the Public Media Company established by PRC.

8 thoughts on “WYEP, Public Radio Capital forge joint venture to purchase Pittsburgh’s WDUQ

  1. distressing to read current staff and managers will lose their jobs. this is a talented group and I hope they will be re-hired (and that jazz will continue) when the sale goes through. otherwise, it would be a big loss for the town and for public radio.

  2. All of this took place behind closed doors with no public input. The more experienced and competent group which had been doing news and public affairs programming, Pittsburgh Public Media, formed from those who had been employees of WDUQ were ousted, even with a higher bid by a station, WYEP, that really has no more experience in radio than assembling a AAA playlist and has shown very little interest in public affairs in the past. They probably got the nod because the President of Duquesne University, an ultra conservative Catholic, still held grudges with the existing WDUQ management and its rebirth as Pittsburgh Public Media because it once took an underwriting announcement from Planned Parenthood. This is far from being the best outcome for Pittsburgh and PRC enabled it.

  3. Not only did PRC enable it, they are looking to profit from it, at the community’s expense.

    It’s been a week, and there’s been no statements from anyone, other than the initial press conference. Why the secrecy? What is there to hide? Or hide from?

    A track record of declining revenues and increasing expenses over the last five years hardly suggests that WYEP is the right choice to shepherd the new operation. Yet, the university rejects a higher bid and selects this fledgling joint venture.

    All Pittsburghers can do is shake our heads and wonder why.

  4. This looks to be turning into a tragedy for Pittsburgh and the entire national jazz community as well. WDUQ was a local and national treasure, and now appears to be on the brink of oblivion. As a current subscriber to WDUQ, I will not support WYEP if they do not maintain the current WDUQ programming and format in its entirety.

    I think as well that Duquesne University has done a great disservice to the citizens of Pittsburgh as well as the larger jazz community.

  5. Has anybody else noticed the similarity between the sale of WAMO and WDUQ? The folks who have the power have the ability to do what they want when they want.. The public be damned. Even though DUQ’s playlist stinks it’s better than nothing which is what we’re going to have.

  6. This sounds an awful lot like the battle last spring when the Pittsburgh Foundation put a blog up to ask for input. They listened and it seemed like there was a chance to work as a community to save DUQ. I thought that was happening.

    But now, there is no open forum at all, and out of town owners and WYEP are taking the station that WE paid for?

    How can the foundations stand for this? This is not over!

  7. Sad to read that the WDUQ staff will be losing their jobs when the sale is finalized…….
    I have no problem with students coming on board of the new station as ” apprentices, or assistants …. etc
    but, that was and is a top notch staff of very qualified radio people. They are skilled and and at the top of their game. It is sad indeed to think that will be out the door and looking for work .
    Their knowledge of Jazz and Pittsburgh is unparalleled.
    The news staff too is one of the best …..
    It will be very hard to find people with more skills than the ones now working at DUQ.

    Anonymous ……….

  8. It’s well to recall that when Duquesne University first put WDUQ on the block, the local philanthropic foundations were quite interested in pursuing its purchase. Talk from that quarter back then was a station with greater emphasis on local journalism, much like what we’re hearing now from winning bidder Essential Public Media (EPM, consisting of WYEP & Public Radio Capital). Some months later, those foundations abruptly took their bid option off the table. Months later, at the press conference announcing the winning bid by Essential Public Media, a WYEP functionary stated that EPM had (has?) been in contact with the local foundations, as the viability of the reworked 90.5 FM must be assured. Are these the same foundations that initially wanted to own 90.5 and give it greater emphasis on local journalism? And just which non-profit foundations are they that EPM has been in touch with? Which local business enterprises fund these particular foundations? Are any local newspapers (and/or local commercial broadcasters) among them? Is this, ultimately, a way for some local newspaper interest to gain or broaden a foothold in broadcast media? If so, what viewpoints will the new 90.5 espouse? I, too, lament the loss of WDUQ’s current, highly talented staff and the possible demise of jazz radio in Pittsburgh. I’m also concerned, though, about EPM’s lack of transparency about who they are, other than a consortium of WYEP and Public Radio Capital. Stay tuned to the new 90.5 FM and pay very close attention to the tenor of its local content. If the new owners are looking to make 90.5 an all-news operation, shouldn’t they be asking why Pittsburgh’s commercial KQV and KDKA aren’t doing all that well? Do we really need another all- news station in Pittsburgh? Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

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