At least it’s not just college stations going the public radio route. In an unusual turnabout the commercial adult contemporary station WQQQ in Sharon, CT is flipping formats to pick up news, talk and classical music programming from public station WSHU based at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT. WQQQ, which went on air in 1993, is the only station owned by Ridgefield Broadcasting. That makes the station a relatively rare commodity in the post-consolidation era: a locally owned and operated commercial station. From perusing WQQQ’s website, one gets the impression that the station takes service to its small town of 3000 seriously, featuring actual local news coverage.
WSHU, by comparison, originates from the so-called “Gold Coast” of Connecticut near New York City. It has two full-power FM stations, one AM signal and seven translators covering much of southeastern Connecticut and most of Long Island.
WQQQ is not being bought outright by WSHU, but rather will be operated by the pubcaster under a local marketing agreement. However in the end this looks like a net loss of truly local radio for the Sharon area. While I’m certain WSHU has more resources to dedicate to news and public affairs programming, I’m guessing very little will be dedicated to the small towns of Litchfield county compared to the densely populated areas of Southern Connecticut and Long Island.
In the wake of the massive consolidation that nearly gutted commercial radio it’s somewhat ironic that the comparative success of public radio is resulting in its own wave of consolidation. Although not nearly as gluttonously as Clear Channel’s 1200 station binge, it appears we’re seeing larger public broadcasting operations go looking to acquire stations that are either struggling or owned by schools looking to trade their licenses for cash. Taking on a commercial station, however, seems to be a new wrinkle.
How soon until public station groups start bumping up against ownership limits and start lobbying the FCC alongside Clear Channel and Cumulus?