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20 radio programs disappear in merger Simulcast of WBFO, WNED-AM to start

Twenty programs will go off the public radio airwaves in Buffalo starting at 4 p.m. Thursday as WBFO-FM 88.7 and WNED-AM 970 combine their operations and begin running identical schedules.

The simulcasting signals the end of an era in local broadcasting and finalizes the acquisition of the University at Buffalo-based WBFO by public broadcaster WNED Buffalo-Toronto.

The stations will retain National Public Radio's major programs but will drop 16 programs currently on the WNED-AM schedule and four that are aired on WBFO.

The acquisition also brings a shift in blues programming and an around-the-clock HD (hybrid digital) jazz format.

WBFO's studio in Allen Hall on the UB South Campus will be dismantled.

For WBFO employees, the move downtown to WNED's broadcast studios happens this week.

"The goal was to bring these two great radio stations together, meld the programming and be true to our mission of being a news and information station, and an NPR station," said Jim Ranney, news director and station manager for WNED-AM 970. "The core NPR programs are still there with very little change from Mondays through Fridays."

Key among the changes are:

* The loss of 11 programs from the weekend lineup on WNED-AM 970. Five more programs will be cut from its daily schedule.

* Weekend blues programming will be shifted from afternoons to evenings. Jim Santella will host from 7 to 11 p.m. Saturdays. Anita West will take over from 7 p.m. to midnight Sundays.

* Jazz programming will be aired on WBFO/HD-2 for 24 hours a day, seven days a week beginning this weekend. It will be provided by JazzWorks, a Pittsburgh company staffed by former employees of jazz station WDUQ that was reformatted to news in May 2011.

The goal is to make it a jazz service that can be customized to suit different markets across the country, Ranney said. JazzWorks, produced through Essential Public Media, is distributed to more than 40 stations nationwide.

The broadcast of JazzWorks over an HD bandwidth will ensure a better quality sound, said Donald K. Boswell, WNED president and chief executive officer. The station is planning a Web campaign to promote the new 24-hour jazz initiative.

"Buy an HD radio, and we will give you a full year of membership privileges. Just send us the purchase receipt," said Boswell, who referred people to wned.org for more information.

The shift of weekend blues programming from afternoons to evenings will pave the way for live broadcasts from local music venues and from WNED studios, Boswell explained.

"Artists who are performing on weekend evenings can be heard live on the air," he said. "We want to make our studio a venue for local groups to be heard on local radio and seen on local TV."

WNED's attention to blues broadcasting was a response to the outcry in the music community over the possible loss of blues programming, according to Ranney. In researching community sentiment, the station sponsored "town hall" meetings, commissioned opinion polls and studied similar markets within the industry.

"There was a group passionate about the blues," Ranney said, "and we heard from them, but if you went around the room at these town hall meetings, you heard people that were passionate about the BBC and NPR. The blues community was organized and united. We heard them, and we responded."

WNED also instituted seven days of overnight coverage for the BBC World Service.

It kept core NPR programs including "Morning Edition," "Talk of the Nation," "All Things Considered" and "Marketplace." It added new programs: "Here & Now" and "Day 6."

Four weekend WBFO programs will disappear: "Thistle and Shamrock" at 8 p.m. Saturday, "Piano Jazz" at 10 p.m. Saturday, "Jazz Favorites" at 9 p.m. Sunday and overnight jazz.

The loss of the 16 programs now aired on WNED-AM means that devoted NPR listeners will no longer have the opportunity to choose between two news and information programs, as they often do now during the day.

The cross-border location of WNED Buffalo-Toronto -- including broadcast studios in Toronto -- has drawn interest in launching a Canadian NPR bureau staffed by a full-time reporter who would split time between NPR and WBFO, according to Boswell.

In Southern Ontario, WNED-AM 970 and FM 94.5 are carried by Rogers Digital Radio on channels 939 and 940, respectively. According to Boswell, the AM channel will soon carry WBFO. In addition, he said, Rogers is working on an HD home for WBFO, an initiative he admitted was a massive undertaking that will require approval by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

The purchase agreement signed in July required WNED to pay UB $4 million for WBFO. An additional $250,000 has been spent so far on the transition, Boswell said.

WBFO was founded in 1959 by a group of UB students and faculty members. In 1970, WBFO was one of the charter founding members of NPR.

Under terms of the agreement, WNED owns the license to operate WBFO and two stations serving the Souther Tier: WUBJ-FM 88.1 in Jamestown and WOLN-FM 91.3 in Olean. All three stations will retain their call letters and keep operating on the same frequencies.

"We have great services, but they are all independently budgeted, so we won't be taking money away from WBFO for WNED," Boswell said. "They must each sustain their costs."

email: jkwiatkowski@buffnews.com