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Foes of WQEX sale take a stand

Attracting younger viewers is station priority

Friday, January 26, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Four opponents to the proposed sale of WQEX showed up at the WQED Pittsburgh board meeting yesterday, and after a video tribute to the first anniversary of WQED's newsmagazine "On Q," they suggested a segment for the show's second year.

Matt Cone, Pittsburgh coordinator for Citizens for Independent Public Broadcasting, said "On Q" should broadcast an interview with organization members who have a dissenting opinion on the sale of Channel 16.

The sale of WQEX has been discussed on "On Q" in the past, but opponents have never appeared on the program. Following the board of directors meeting, WQED Vice President and Station Manager B.J. Leber said the station would consider the request.

Yesterday's board meeting came two weeks after the station filed its latest plan with the Federal Communications Commission, asking to change WQEX's license status from noncommercial to commercial. That change would enable WQED to sell WQEX to a commercial broadcaster for $20 million.

Glenn Walsh of Mt. Lebanon, a viewer and semi-regular at WQED board meetings, called WQED's request "just plain wrong." He suggested the station's intended buyer, ShootingStar Broadcasting, should find another way to get an additional full-power commercial station on the air in the Pittsburgh market.

WQED board member Gwen Elliott defended the station's plan, saying the coming conversion to digital would allow WQED to broadcast four distinct channels, eliminating the need for WQEX's second signal.

In its latest attempt to sell WQEX, WQED came under fire for not revealing its intentions for the public station until the day it filed the plan with the FCC. In opening yesterday's meeting, board Chairman Tom McGough defended the need for secrecy in negotiations but admitted it might have been better to have announced the deal in advance of the FCC filing.

"Looking back over it, if we had attempted to negotiate in public, I'm not sure it would have happened," McGough said. "But there was a brief window when the deal was done, a matter of days before the de-reservation was filed, and some have said at that point there should have been a public meeting of the board. ... I do see that as a potential missed opportunity."

Other than discussion of the WQEX sale, yesterday's board meeting was notable for the emphasis on attracting younger viewers. This follows PBS's recent attempts to cast a wider net.

Leber said WQED's board discussed ways to reach younger viewers at a retreat in the fall. WQED is conducting focus groups with people in their 20s and 30s to see what issues are important to them. Their interests will be reflected in future content developed for WQED television, radio, the Web site and Pittsburgh Magazine.

WQED also has begun offering unpaid internships to high school juniors and seniors. The board is reaching out to recruit new members, particularly seeking younger representatives from the finance, legal, education, arts, health and high-tech communities.

Financially, WQED is on track to meet its budget this fiscal year, and the station's December pledge period exceeded its goal of $460,000 by $100,000.

Upcoming TV specials include Chris Fennimore's "I Is for Italian" cooking marathon, airing live from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Feb. 10. A new music special, "The Sound of Pittsburgh," featuring local doo-wop groups, will air on WQED Feb. 11.

In addition, "Doo Wop 52," the third and final WQED "Doo Wop" concert, will be taped May 16-18 at the Benedum Center, Downtown. That program will fall under the "American Soundtrack" umbrella of programs that WQED is developing in cooperation with Rhino Records.

WQED President George Miles said the station is seeking "significant corporate partners" to sponsor "American Soundtrack."

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