On Sept. 15, the new all-classical music station of the University of South Florida was supposed to go on the air at WSMR-FM 89.1. At the same time, the longtime home of classical music in the Tampa Bay area, WUSF-FM 89.7, was to switch to a news and information format.
Fresh Air, Talk of the Nation and all the other public radio news shows went on the air as planned on WUSF. Classical music listeners are still waiting, as WSMR has been silent for almost three weeks because of engineering problems.
"It's terrible," said JoAnn Urofsky, general manager of WUSF public media. "We felt we had the best possible plan in place to do both stations on the same day. We had no way of knowing this would happen. That's what makes it so unfortunate. We made promises, and we have a lot of listeners who are very disappointed right now."
The problem is at the WSMR tower in Nokomis, about 17 miles south of Sarasota. This is a new tower for the station, which WUSF is purchasing for $1,275,000 from Northwestern Media, a Christian broadcaster in St. Paul, Minn. WSMR's 50,000-watt signal, tested just a day before the new station's launch, was found to interfere with another client on the tower that Urofsky would not identify except to say that it is a government agency.
Urofsky said it was the responsibility of Northwestern to fix the interference problem. The sale of the station is not yet complete.
"Engineers for the seller are working on this," she said, declining to predict a date when the station might go on the air. "We think it will be a couple of weeks. We're gun-shy right now about naming a date."
In the meantime, the classical programming can be heard at wusf.edu or on HD radios. "It's not a substitute, and we realize that," Urofsky said. "That is the biggest issue for people (who say): 'It's great that it's on the computer, but I can't get it in my car.' "
Even when WSMR does get on the air, the signal may be spotty in much of WUSF's core listening area of Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Polk counties. The station plans to have a "translator" to extend the signal at 103.9.
Urofsky said "optimizing" the new classical station's signal will be an engineering project "that will last for a while." She acknowledges listeners may run out of patience and cancel their memberships with the station. Listener support is the largest part of a public radio station's income. "In this transition, we knew we would lose some members," she said.
John Fleming can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8716. He blogs on Critics Circle at tampabay.com/blogs/critics.
The Met at the movies
The Metropolitan Opera's series of live movie theater simulcasts begins its fifth season at 1 p.m. Saturday with Das Rheingold, the first installment of Wagner's Ring cycle. It's a high-tech production directed by Robert LePage, known for his work with Cirque du Soleil and Peter Gabriel. James Levine conducts, with Bryn Terfel as Wotan and Stephanie Blythe as Fricka. • There will be 12 operas in the series, six of them new productions. The schedule: Saturday, Wagner's Das Rheingold; Oct. 23, Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov; Nov. 13, Donizetti's Don Pasquale; Dec. 11, Verdi's Don Carlo; Jan. 8, Puccini's La Fanciulla del West; Feb. 12, John Adams' Nixon in China; Feb. 26, Gluck's Iphigenie en Tauride; March 19, Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor; April 9, Rossini's Le Comte Ory; April 23, Strauss' Capriccio; April 30, Verdi's Il Trovatore; May 14, Wagner's Die Walkure.
At least five movie theaters in the Tampa Bay area and Sarasota carry the simulcasts, including a new one this season, the Park Place Stadium 16 in Pinellas Park. Some theaters will screen encores the third Wednesday after each live performance. See fathomevents.com for details. Prices vary, with a top ticket of $24.