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Classical music station WSMR's delay may be as much about bureaucracy as technology



wsmr-horozontal-logo.jpgEven as Tampa public radio station WUSF-FM (89.7) airs messages assuring listeners that it's sister station WSMR-FM (89.1) will soon begin full power broadcasts of classical music to the area, there's an important twist that remains unsaid.

wusf-wsmr-fullpagead.jpgSome of the delay in bringing WSMR up to full strength involves problems in communicating with the U.S. Coast Guard to resolve interference issues with that agency's Rescue 21 emergency broadcast system. 

I have a story in today's St. Petersburg Times which outlines the maze of bureaucracy and technical delays which have confronted this project, which was part of a plan by WUSF Public Media to convert WUSF to all news and information programming during the day, shifting its classical music shows to WSMR.

Both switches were supposed to occur on Sept. 15. But one day before WSMR was scheduled to begin broadcasting classical music, officials at WUSF called off the change, citing technical difficulties. It turns out, the spot on the broadcast tower where they hoped to put WSMR's antenna wasn't big enough, and the new spot they tried led to conflicts with the Coast Guard's frequency.

Eventually, WUSF decided to build a new antenna for the site, striking a deal to subtract its $150,000 cost from the station's purchase price. WSMR is now broadcasting at 30 percent power, mostly reaching the Sarasota area. But WUSF said difficulties in getting feedback from the Coast Guard on interference issues have delayed their efforts to increase broadcast strength, making it difficult to pinpoint exactly when or how the issues can resolved.

In weeks of trying to pull together a sense of why it has taken more than four months to bring WSMR up to full power, I found many close to project reluctant or unwilling to talk; all sides wary of taking blame from Tampa Bay area fans for fumbling the start of the only local, 24-hour radio station devoted to classical music.

As I began asking for more details on the delays, communication seemed to improve; WUSF is now hopeful new technology shielding the Coast Guard's system from WSMR's signal can be installed soon, allowing the station to ramp up power. Even then, some experts have expressed doubts the signal can reach very far into Hillsborough County, though WUSF general manager JoAnn Urofsky remains optimistic.

Fans can also see updates from the station or listen online by clicking here.

[Last modified: Monday, January 31, 2011 8:10am]


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