Chicago’s WFMT to leave Public Radio Satellite System for PRX

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Chicago’s WFMT will shift distribution of its music and spoken-word radio programming to Public Radio Exchange as of July 1, ending its use of the Public Radio Satellite System.

PRX and WFMT announced the arrangement May 7, though WFMT has been discussing the move with stations and is already porting content to PRX. WFMT’s business model will not change — stations will continue to pay the same affiliation fees, and the network will pay PRX for distribution services. WFMT will handle its own marketing, though PRX will promote WFMT programs in newsletters to stations.

WFMT’s library includes three daily radio offerings, two of which are 12-hour programming blocks, and more than a dozen weekly series. It also distributes several specials and will house the forthcoming Studs Terkel Radio Archive, collecting a lifetime’s worth of interviews conducted by the oral historian.

“In conversations with PRX, we felt like they’re so focused on the evolving [distribution] landscape that it makes a ton of sense as a fit for us,” said Tony Macaluso, director of network syndication at WFMT. The two organizations have “a shared philosophy about the future of radio,” he said.

As the cost of satellite distribution rises, moving to PRX’s Internet-based system will allow WFMT to keep fees down for its more than 300 affiliates, said Steve Robinson, WFMT executive v.p. for radio and project distribution. “Frankly, the cost was an important factor,” he said. WFMT would not disclose details about its PRSS costs.

The arrangement also helps WFMT feed content to stations overseas, a growing part of its customer base. It has expanded that audience in part through its membership in the European Broadcasting Union and is currently heard in more than 50 countries.

“If a station in Dubai wants to start taking our shows, they can go directly to PRX, and there’s no concern about satellite or geographic constraints,” Macaluso said.

The network is looking to move into China, as well — a pet project of Macaluso’s, because he used to live there. WFMT has approached stations in Shanghai and Beijing but is wading through the Chinese government’s red tape, Macaluso said.

Under the PRX agreement, stations will find it easier to break up WFMT’s two daily 12-hour programming blocks, Beethoven Network and Jazz Network. The service is now fed live on PRSS; PRX will feed the content a day or more in advance and allow stations to pick it apart for scheduling. WFMT will also provide web assets via PRX to supplement its programs, including photos and videos.

The decision to switch to PRX did not result from problems between PRSS and WFMT, which is one of the satellite system’s heaviest users, Robinson said. “We were very fond of PRSS and had a very good relationship,” he said. “It was really just a technology factor and a cost factor. On the flip side of that, PRX has been busting their behinds on this.”

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