Last Thursday we reported [link] on the plan crafted by Chicago Public Media (CPM) and WDCB to expand the radio reach of CPM’s Vocalo. There are two sides of every deal. A Chicago reader told me that my reporting (and most of the coverage by others) neglected the benefits to WDCB and Chicago jazz and blues music fans.
According to the deal between the two broadcasters, WDCB will now be simulcast on CPM’s WRTE 90.7 FM. This move will bring WDCB to the heart of Chicago: The West Loop plus the Near North Side, United Center, Near West Side, University of Illinois-Chicago and thousands of commuters on the Kennedy and Eisenhower Expressways.
WDCB [link] has served Chicago’s western suburbs for 39 years with 5,000-watts at 90.9 from Glen Ellyn in DuPage County. 90.9 does have an excellent signal covering a wide swath of metro communities from Aurora to north shore suburbs and to Northwest Indiana. But, WDCB’s signal was not reliable in much of Chicago’s center. Now WDCB will serves thousands of new potential listeners because of the addition of 90.7.
Dan Bindert, Station Manager of WDCB, said in a press release:
“Jazz and blues music have always been incredibly important to Chicago’s cultural identity, but it’s been almost decade since a major public radio jazz outlet has had a signal originating from the center of the city. [The new 90.7 coverage] will offer much-improved reception for many city residents.”
THE SIX-WATT WONDER
WRTE 90.7 operates with six (6) watts of power. On paper this doesn’t seem like much. In reality, it depends on the location of the transmitter and the line-of-sight view of the area being served. WRTE’s antenna is 300’ above the average terrain. A map of the projected new coverage area is on the left.
The transmitter is located near the junction of the Kennedy and Eisenhower Expressways, two major Chicago freeways that often have bumper-to-bumper traffic. Since in-vehicle listening is radio’s sweet spot, jazz and blues on WDCB will now be a choice commuters can count on.
Six-watts means that 90.7 probably won’t penetrate the concrete fortresses of Chicago’s Loop or get past the wall of buildings on Lakeshore Drive but otherwise the signal is surprisingly good for a big chunk of territory in mid Chicago. A lot of people live, work and play there.
WDCB 90.9 already covers parts of the heart of Chicago. Now 90.7 gives West Loop listeners better local coverage and provides a huge marketing boost. Legendary venues and clubs such as Andy’s and The Jazz Showcase are in 90.7’s reach. Likewise blues meccas including Buddy Guy’s Legends, Blue Chicago and M Lounge.
The new coverage will also increase WDCB’s national standing. According to Nielsen Audio PPM estimates, WDCB typically has between 150,000 - 165,000 weekly cumulative listeners. This looks small compared to other jazz stations in the largest markets. WBGO in New York typically has 350,000 weekly listeners and KKJZ in Los Angeles often tops a half-million weekly listeners. Observers who aren’t familiar with WDCB’s challenges might have misread the ratings to be a programming issue. It is not. After a few books, we’ll probably see a growing number of WDCB’s audience reach.
Another positive is WDCB’s alliance with CPM and WBEZ. The deal to improve coverage for both WDCB and Vocalo is being praised as a “win/win” for both stations. Listeners to both are the biggest beneficiaries. The deal is model for others to emulate.
IMPROVING SERVICE IN A CROWDED URBAN MARKET
The Chicago area has long been known as an under served public radio market. By my count, there are 21 noncommercial stations between 88.1 and 91.9. Only two (WBEZ and Moody Bible’s WMBI) has close to full market coverage. Many of the 21 stations serve small geographic areas. Some have been in their locations for decades. This means they are “grandfathered” in place often making it impossible to establish new stations that want to serve the whole metro.
In the biz, trying to fit new stations or translators into congested areas is called “shoehorning.” Broadcast engineers are using sophisticated software and directional antennas that allow new signals to be added to dense urban areas. Let’s hope the CPM/WDCB deal inspires others to find ways to increase their noncom public service.