January 1, 2011

Hope for 2011

The editorial in today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Hope for 2011,” is subtitled “News and headlines we’d like to see in the new year.” (“Hopes for 2011” might have been a better title.) In the printed version of the Post-Gazette, the editorial is a long column of headlines seemingly torn from actual newspapers and pasted as if in a scrapbook. Unfortunately, only the text made it to the Post-Gazette Web site.

Most of the hopeful headlines relate specifically to Pittsburgh, such as the unlikely “PIRATES ENTER ALL-STAR BREAK AT .500.” Some of the national headlines seem at least possible (“UNEMPLOYMENT RATE CONTINUES PLUNGE”), whereas others seem far-fetched (“OBAMA ANNOUNCES VISIT TO CUBA”).

WDUQ logoMy favorite headline is the very first one, “New WDUQ owner keeps NPR, jazz lineup,” and I was pleased to see the hopeful headline and particularly pleased to see it featured so prominently.

WDUQ-FM is the primary NPR station in Pittsburgh. The 60-year-old station is owned by Duquesne University, which is razing its long-time home to build a dormitory and which has put the station itself on the auction block. The university clearly intends to rid itself of a “non-productive” asset and gain as much money as it can in the process. No doubt, the license to broadcast is worth more to a commercial enterprise than to a nonprofit one, but WDUQ listeners are hoping (and, no doubt, praying) that the station can be purchased by some civic-minded collection of individuals and foundations that will maintain the existing jazz and NPR format.

If I were the WDUQ station manager, I might tweak the schedule a bit, adding more public affairs programming and cutting down on the jazz, but the current format represents a good compromise in the Pittsburgh market. WDUQ once featured classical music, but that was redundant in the same town as the all-classical WQED-FM. WDUQ has more public affairs offerings on its HD channels, though one has to wonder who is listening to them. Pittsburgh has produced more than its share of jazz musicians, so it seems appropriate for at least one local radio station to feature that genre.

WDUQ is very nearly the only radio station I listen to these days, mostly for the NPR (and PRI, etc.) programming, but also for the excellent local news and features. (The recent series of short reports, “Living With,” featuring first-person descriptions of coping with mental health disorders, was both fascinating and educational.) The staff is professional, dedicated, and knowledgeable.

That is not to say that I never listen to the music programming on my favorite station, though I must admit that my taste for and knowledge of jazz are a bit thin. I do deliberately tune in to one music show, “Rhythm Sweet and Hot.” RS&H is a rare show that features popular music of the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s. It is co-hosted by my friend and fellow church choir member Mike Plaskett, whose knowledge of the period covered by the show is encyclopedic.

Not only Pittsburgh listeners will be hoping for the salvation of WDUQ in something like its present form. A few years ago, the station established translators in Johnstown, New Baltimore, Somerset, and Ligonier, nearby towns in southwestern Pennsylvania. Pledges regularly can be expected from these areas, as well as from listeners in West Virginia and friends who listen over the Internet. (When I’m out of town, I often find that the easiest way to listen to my favorite NPR programs is to listen to WDUQ’s live air stream over the Internet.)

My thanks to the Post-Gazette for reminding Pittsburghers of the need to save an important local cultural asset. If any of the hoped-for headlines actually appear in the newspaper in 2011, I hope that “New WDUQ owner keeps NPR, jazz lineup” will be one of them.

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