WUSF donates license to WEDU to keep programs on air in Tampa

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WUSF in Tampa, Fla., is donating its broadcast license to another Tampa station, WEDU, which will change the former station’s call letters to WEDQ and continue to air its programs.

The University of South Florida sold WUSF’s broadcast spectrum in the FCC auction for $18.7 million. WUSF was nearing its mid-October shutdown when WEDU President Susan Howarth heard about the value of “zombie licenses” left over after spectrum sales, she said. The university agreed to give the license to WEDU licensee Florida West Coast Public Broadcasting, pending FCC approval.

WEDU had to move quickly, Howarth said, to maintain WUSF’s service after its planned Oct. 16 shutoff. Through the Digital Convergence Alliance joint master control in Jacksonville, WEDU upgraded its encoders to handle six channels, two in high definition and four in standard.

The station’s main signal and WEDU Plus, which together carry about a dozen programs that WUSF previously aired, will broadcast in HD. The Florida Channel, along with multicasts World, PBS Kids and Create, will be SD.

The FCC is currently taking public comments on the agreement, Howarth said. If the commission approves the transaction, “we’ll have two different licenses operating within one station’s bandwidth,” Howarth said. She expects approval could come by January.

Despite WEDU’s previous promise to pick up most of WUSF’s content, local viewers were still concerned about the loss or rescheduling of some programs, Howarth said. When WEDU opened a phone bank last month to answer questions, station staffers handed an average of 1,200 calls a day.

Adding the WUSF license will enable WEDU to better serve that audience, Howarth said. “With each license comes cable and satellite must-carry rights,” she said. Two licenses give WEDU rights to have up to eight channels on cable and two on satellite instead of four on those platforms.