New WYZR brings jazz back to Pittsburgh area

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Former staffers of Pittsburgh’s defunct WDUQ-FM have returned to the airwaves with WYZR, a jazz station that signed on Aug. 31 from a location about 20 miles southwest of the city.

Licensed to Bethany, W.Va., the 1,000-watt broadcast signal is strong near the Pennsylvania border but becomes spottier as it approaches Pittsburgh from the south and west. It is operated by the nonprofit Pittsburgh Public Media.

“I have been asked, why start with 88.1 FM, which is not a Pittsburgh signal?” wrote PPM President Chuck Leavens on WYZR’s website. “I am fond of saying that doing nothing is unacceptable. Doing nothing because it is not the perfect solution is more so. While the signal reaches only the south and west areas of Pittsburgh, it is indeed a start.”

Leavens aims to improve the station’s reach into Pittsburgh with a directional antenna, and hopes to acquire additional frequencies as well. WYZR is airing PubMusic Jazz, a continuous jazz stream that PPM already distributes to 122 affiliate stations around the country, according to Leavens.

PPM bought the station earlier this year from West Virginia’s Bethany College for $135,000. The station had gone on and off the air in recent years, which at one point resulted in an FCC fine on the college.

After acquiring the station, formerly broadcasting under the call letters WVBC, PPM was delayed in launching jazz broadcasts when plans for studio space fell through. It has since found permanent studios, Leavens said.

Leavens and colleagues from Pittsburgh’s WDUQ organized PPM in 2010 in an attempt to buy the station from owner Duquesne University, which was seeking to sell. The university instead sold the station to Essential Public Media, a subsidiary of Pittsburgh’s WYEP-FM. The new operator cut most jazz on the station, now broadcasting as WESA, and today uses the syndicated JazzWorks service for what remains.

Jazz fans who miss WDUQ have been donating to support PPM, Leavens said, and private foundations have also contributed.

This article was first published in Current, Sept. 9, 2013

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