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The Pittsburgh area will soon have a jazz radio station again after nearly five years without one.
Pittsburgh Public Media announced today the acquisition of WZUM (1550), an AM station licensed to Braddock, for $75,000. (WZUM airs Tube City Community Media's weekly talk show, "Two Rivers, 30 Minutes.")
A letter of intent and asset purchase agreement was signed by WZUM’s owners, AM Guys LLC, and by Chuck Leavens, president of Pittsburgh Public Media.
The sale is pending approval by the Federal Communications Commission, a process that could take several months, Leavens said. When the sale is complete, PPM intends to add jazz programming to WZUM along with other public-interest features, Leavens said.
“It feels good to begin to bring the spirit of community service and jazz back to Pittsburgh,” Leavens said.
Pittsburgh Public Media was created by former employees of WDUQ-FM, including Leavens, who served as chief engineer and was the announcer most often heard as the “voice” of the station, which had a 24-hour news and jazz format before being sold by Duquesne University in 2011.
The non-profit corporation, based in South Park Twp., operates the Pittsburgh Jazz Channel, as well as a jazz music service that’s provided via satellite to public radio stations throughout the United States.
Pittsburgh Jazz Channel hosts include former WDUQ personalities Tony Mowod and Scott Hanley, as well as jazz aficionado Bill Hillgrove, better known as the voice of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pitt Panthers football and basketball.
It also owns WYZR-FM (88.1), licensed to Bethany, W.Va. That station, purchased in 2013 from Bethany College, can be heard in the South Hills and western suburbs of Pittsburgh, and has been authorized to increase its power to 10,000 watts. But WYZR’s signal could not be easily heard within the Pittsburgh city limits or east of the city.
“The WZUM purchase is the next step in our growth,” Leavens said. “It’s an established AM station with a superior signal, and in keeping with our financially sound policy, allows us to grow without taking on a huge debt. That leaves us in a better position to serve the community, which is what we’re all about.”
Pittsburgh Public Media will look for opportunities to expand WZUM’s signal to the FM dial, Leavens said. "The FCC has opened several opportunities for FM translators just for stations like WZUM," he said. "Pittsburgh Public Media plans to take advantage of these opportunities."
AM Guys LLC purchased WZUM in 2013. The station currently broadcasts an R&B and soul oldies format. Partners in AM Guys LLC are Ed DeHart and Stephen Zelenko.
Originally published January 14, 2016.