Why does WDUQ do News AND Jazz programming?

In my current job as General Manager of WDUQ in Pittsburgh, the question gets posed as to why WDUQ does news and jazz programming – and not news and talk programming.

(it should be noted that the question of “why do you do so much news?” also gets asked).

First, an important point to start. WDUQ’s listenership is large and has been growing. The metro audience for the station is at a record high and that has been the case for several years.

The implementation of a new audience measurement method from Arbitron, called the “People Meter,” has given all of radio more precise information than ever before.

In March 2010, WDUQ-FM was measured as having 180,500 total listeners per week, the #13 station in the Pittsburgh market with a 3 share. This is ahead of the other fine public radio stations in Pittsburgh, WQED-FM with 115,500 listeners (#16) and WYEP-FM with 80,000 listeners (#26) (Monday-Sunday, 6am-12m, Arbitron People Meter).

Could WDUQ’s ratings be higher? Possibly. But they are not considered to be “bad” among WDUQ’s peers. WDUQ’s ratings are on par or better than other NPR stations that are essentially news/talk stations in cities like Cleveland, St Louis, Baltimore, Detroit and Chicago.

“Both sides” of WDUQ perform well. The NPR News programming on WDUQ reaches about 140,000 listeners per week. Jazz programming, parsed separately, about 130,000. For WDUQ overall, and even more so with jazz programming, WDUQ has a much more diverse audience than most NPR stations. WDUQ is the #2 or 3 station with African American listeners in Pittsburgh – and tied for #1 in middays.

Jazz has a special cultural and historic role in Pittsburgh, too, so the value is more than just in the numbers. WDUQ believes that that legacy and diversity is significant. But the numbers are significant by themselves.

But “parsing” the programming into separate streams is misleading. Unlike many other “dual format” NPR stations, most of ‘DUQ’s listeners (more than 2/3) listen to both news and jazz programs.

In terms of resources and attention, WDUQ’s major focus is news. As a rough thumbnail, WDUQ spends about 70% of its programming budget on news, about 20% on Jazz.

The station had more news until the NPR program Day to Day was canceled by NPR for budget reasons in 2009. When Day to Day left the network, the WDUQ programming team wrestled with the financial and programmatic options, and chose, for the time being, to not replace that valuable noon-hour with what seemed to be less viable news and talk options that would have left very little room for local news.

In terms of listener support, WDUQ is doing better than ever. But network programming costs continue to climb. So, we wrestle with the issue of what to program and when.

If jazz were unsuccessful, it would not be such a vexing problem, but technology has offered some potential solutions. The station has been a national leader in the new technology of HD Radio. WDUQ has put a significant amount of public radio talk programming on the HD2 signal, and the BBC world service on HD3. While it is taking a while for HD radio to “take off,” WDUQ’s interest and commitment to that additional programming is real.

For the past five years, listeners longing for public radio talk programming from WDUQ have had a new option with the purchase of an HD Radio. Some advances in upgrading that service, nationwide (advocated strongly by WDUQ management) could make HD radio even more viable in the future.

WDUQ’s HD2 stream includes NPR programs like “On Point,” “Talk of the Nation” and much more. Those streams are also offered by WDUQ online for people who can listen via the Internet.

Just like any public media outlet, WDUQ tries to make the best decisions possible to serve the community and be economically viable. Nothing on ‘DUQ’s air is taken for granted and change and evolution is always a part of the picture. But when you commit to certain choices, you should commit fully.

If the results of your current choices are working, making changes is more difficult based on what you risk losing. That doesn’t mean you don’t consider change, but it means you consider change carefully – and, for the most part, you don’t publicize change unless you are clear and committed on what you are going to do.

When making change, unintended consequences are always looming. The NBC television network was very daring in their attempt at change last year when they opted to eliminate their then 10pm weeknight programming to bring on Jay Leno for a weeknight show. While the costs of the 10pm Leno show seemed to make economic sense for the return to NBC, the cost in overall lost audience for local affiliates was significant. So, NBC changed back – and fully committed to that change, too.

WDUQ has evolved and changed greatly since it first went on the air in 1949. It is the most listened to, most supported public radio station in the region. With that mantle of success comes an obligation to always explore options and opportunities.

Given the stewardship role of a precious non-commercial frequency, WDUQ is also careful and respectful of the obligation of service to the community that has supported the station thus far. That’s why the entire staff of WDUQ welcomes ideas, questions and concerns all the time.

More than probably any other medium, radio stations can have a deeply personal meaning to each person they touch. For WDUQ, there are about 180,000 listeners, each with their own story, plus the stories of an entire community that we are committed to serve.

If you have questions or concerns about programming at WDUQ, an email to info@wduq.org or a letter to WDUQ, Pittsburgh, PA 15282 is always read, appreciated and considered.


About sehanley

Musician, journalist, teacher, technologist, consultant & former NPR station manager. A media and entertainment professional, journalist, entrepreneur, technology advocate, educator, student, mentor, manager, and media, musical and theatrical performer. Voice talent and coach for music and spoken word. I also act and sing (mostly jazz, but a lot of experience with choral, classical and musical theater, too). Brass instruments, too, but my AF ofM card lapsed years ago. Heard on the national jazz service, PubJazz, and in the Pittsburgh market on WZUM/Pittsburgh Jazz Channel. I also teach college level courses in media and journalism. I managed the leading NPR/public radio station in Pittsburgh, PA for 16 years, a few years later was GM of the NPR station WBHM in Birmingham, AL. I served for six very busy years on the NPR Board of Directors and have done much volunteer service for national and local organizations in the communities I have been privileged to live and work in. Former NPR Board Member, former President of the Pittsburgh Radio Organization, sometime musician, relentless technology advocate. Opinions expressed are not the viewpoints of any employer or affiliation past or present.
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