Monday, October 12, 2015


Last week when we covered the positive developments at KUSP [link], we talked about Lee Ferraro who is the interim GM in Santa Cruz. We said there is hope for KUSP because Ferraro is a proven noncom entrepreneur. Witness the amazing success of WYEP.

A few years ago I donated to WYEP and I am still on their promotion list. I have been receiving emails from WYEP like the one to the right. These emails are extremely convincing. They convey the essence of WYEP’s personal value to the people who count the most: Listeners.


One of the best aspects of WYEP’s current pledge drive is the promise of “no interruptions.” The message is simple: Pledge your support now because WYEP does not want to stop the music for pledging. Listeners are responding – WYEP is (as of this writing) more than half way to its goal of $150,000.

 Listener support is vital to WYEP because it provides over 42% of WYEP’s operating budget. According WYEP’s 2013 IRS filing, the station has a $2.2 million annual budget. Underwriting revenue and proceeds from station events are also major components of WYEP’s listener-sensitive support.


WYEP’s success happened because of wise management and a game plan to make the station an ever more essential part of life in Pittsburgh. But after WYEP started in 1974 it almost folded. For its first decade WYEP was a Pacifica-style operation much like many NFCB stations are now. By the mid-1980s WYEP was insolvent and went off the air.

Then, new management led by Peter Rosenfeld entered the scene and WYEP signed back on in 1986.  By 1987 the station had new offices and studios and a powerhouse Board with deep ties to the community. Gone were the marginal specialty programs and political rants. WYEP focused on serving a substantial number of listeners by playing, and talking about, the best progressive rock music available.

By 1994 WYEP had a new transmitter and much improved coverage area. More paid on-air hosts were hired. They attracted more and more listeners and supporters. Lee Ferraro began WYEP's GM in 1996. Ferraro left in 2012 and Abbey Goldstein became WYEP's GM.

In 1997 they partnered with World Café and the Andy Warhol Museum to start the WYEP Summer Music Festival. It became an essential event in Pittsburgh.

In 2002 the management and Board of WYEP decided to build a permanent home that also would be a place where community folks could gather. They began a multi-million dollar Capital Campaign called Turn It Up! By 2005 WYEP had raised $3.7 million from foundations and over 1,700 individual supporters. They broke ground for The WYEP Community Broadcast Center at 67 Bedford Square in the heart of the south side of the city. It opened in 2006.


WDUQ was Pittsburgh’s NPR News station for many years.  In addition to news, WDUQ aired blocks of tasty jazz music. But things with the station’s licensee were troubled. WDUQ was owned by Duquesne University, a Catholic school that never embraced the station.

The shit hit the fan in 2007.  WDUQ began airing underwriting messages for Planned Parenthood. According to coverage in The New York Times, one of the messages said: “Support for DUQ comes from Planned Parenthood, providing comprehensive sexuality education, including lessons on abstinence. Planned Parenthood: Their mission is prevention.”

The president of Duquesne had a cow. He ordered WDUQ management to stop airing the spots, which they did. But the turmoil opened old wounds and Duquesne decided to sell WDUQ.

WYEP came to the rescue. With the assistance of the Public Media Company (then known as Public Radio Capital), Farraro and his team formed Essential Public Media and bought WDUQ. WESA signed on as Pittsburgh’s NPR News Station.

By 2013, WESA had become, according to its IRS filing, a five million dollar operation. The best part is that WYEP technically owns WESA. Essential Public Media is wholly-owned subsidiary of WYEP. WESA became part of The WYEP Community Broadcast Center.

Community stations everywhere can learn from WYEP’s track record: You don’t have to be stuck with small, insignificant operations like Pacifica. You can choose to be essential.

1 comment:

  1. Ken, all I'm gonna say is that this isn't even one tenth of the whole story. The WDUQ saga was an ocean of backstabbing academic politics, primarily to please one highly-conservative major donor to the college who was also a fan of WYEP.