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WNED-AM OPERATIONS TO BE SUSPENDED IN FEBRUARY

Citing a lack of support from subscribers and sponsors, the Western New York Public Broadcasting Association said Tuesday it will suspend the operation of financially troubled WNED-AM, 970, by mid-February.

At that time, the news and information station, which has been part of the broadcasting group since 1976, will begin simulcasting WBFO-FM, 88.7, the University at Buffalo-owned station whose format blends National Public Radio programming with jazz.

"Local funding from membership and corporate underwriting for WNED-AM has been minimal in recent years," said Mary Ann Lauricella, chairwoman of the association board of trustees. "Despite the excellent service the station provides, it is operating in the red and has been for several years."

The step follows a discouraging mid-year financial review, added Donald K. Boswell, president and chief executive officer.

"Fiscal realities demand that each of our services be self-supporting," Boswell said. "With major cuts in government funding, we can no longer afford to subsidize WNED-AM."

One of the station's full-time employees, local news anchor Chris Bishop, is leaving this week to take a position in city government. The association will "make every attempt" to reassign four other full-time workers, said Maureen O'Brien, association communications director.

Although the AM operation will be suspended, the public broadcasting organization does not intend to sell it, Boswell emphasized.

The suspension follows a lengthy paring-down of WNED, which was the dominant force in Buffalo news radio when it was known as WEBR.

Last March, Leon Thomas, best-known anchor and reporter for two decades, was switched to full-time work at WNED-TV, also owned by the broadcast group, and other key news staff members were reassigned or let go.

In its news heyday as WEBR, from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, the station featured an all-news format that was by far the most informative and detailed news coverage in local radio history.

Its demise comes as commercial radio outlets also have cut back on news coverage. Only WBEN-AM, 930, and WGR-AM, 550, which are owned by the same company, maintain significant local news departments.

WNED listeners still will have access to many of the station's programs via WBFO-FM and WNED-TV, Boswell pointed out. WBFO already carries 21 percent of WNED'S weekly fare, including the two NPR flagship newsmagazines, "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered." WNED-TV carries another 12 percent, including such programs as "Charlie Rose," "Nightly Business Report," "The Newshour with Jim Lehrer," "Wall Street Week" and Inside Albany."

Boswell and Jennifer Roth, WBFO general manager, said the WNYPBA and WBFO will seek a joint grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to explore how the stations might collaborate.

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