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WXXI signals intention to acquire new FM radio frequency

The WXXI building and a sign with the tagline, "Go Public."
Max Schulte
WXXI Public Broadcasting building on State Street in Rochester.

The late U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter used to complain that she couldn’t pick up the signal from WXXI at night at her Fairport home.

On Thursday, Rochester’s public radio station took a step toward correcting that issue.

It has filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission to acquire the now-dormant WJZR, creating a pathway to a larger audience for its news content.

“This is an opportunity for WXXI to better serve the community,” said WXXI President Norm Silverstein. “It’s something we’ve been looking for, for over 25 years, believe it or not. There have been very few opportunities to purchase a radio station in the greater Rochester area. And with this opportunity, and the way that Lee Rust has structured this, it’s a win-win for everyone.”

WJZR-FM (105.9), which aired jazz and blues for nearly three decades, went silent on July 10 after station owner and operator Lee Rust played Miles Davis’ “In a Silent Way.” With the addition of new equipment to improve its signal, the plan is for the station to carry the same news programming as WXXI-AM (1370).

That includes the locally produced “Connections with Evan Dawson” talk show, reporting from the WXXI newsroom, as well as nationally syndicated NPR shows such as “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”

“Lee Rust has made this a much-more affordable opportunity for WXXI by offering to donate over a half a million dollars back to the station. So we are able to do this without having any real hit on our budget, and it gives us the opportunity to give better service to the community,” Silverstein said.

WJZR will likely undergo a change in call letters. The station will return to the air in 2023 as a non-commercial broadcast service.

The move creates several options for the WXXI partnerships, options which may only reach the ears of radio audiences over the next few years.

“I wish we could do it tomorrow,” Silverstein said, “but you always have to go through a long process when you obtain a new license.”

The new signal joins a family of seven radio station services that includes WRUR-FM (88.5), which features music programming such as the weekday morning “Open Tunings,” as well as the longtime Friday-evening duo of “Rejuvenation” and “Blacks and Blues,” supplemented by nationally syndicated programming such as World Café.

Classical 91.5 presents a full schedule curated by local and national hosts, as well as shows focusing on the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and “Live at Hochstein.” Ithaca’s WITH-FM (90.1) airs “Open Tunings” as well as nationally produced music shows such as “Afropop Worldwide” and “Mountain Stage.” The Houghton-based WXXY-FM (90.3) offers classical and NPR-fueled news.

Geneva’s WEOS-FM (89.5 and 90.3) airs programming from NPR, PRX, the BBC World Service and Pacifica Radio, as well as the locally produced Saturday-night gem “Stuck in the Psychedelic Era.”

These join WXXI’s PBS television channel, as well as its acquisition of CITY magazine in 2019.

Jeff Spevak has been a Rochester arts reporter for nearly three decades, with seven first-place finishes in the Associated Press New York State Features Writing Awards while working for the Democrat and Chronicle.