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WXXI completes acquisition of WJZR-FM radio frequency

Lee Rust Norm Silverstein.png
Denise Young
Lee Rust, left, and WXXI President Norm Silverstein sign documents that complete WXXI's acquisition of Rust's now-dormant WJZR signal on Jan. 24, 2023, at WXXI's State Street offices.

Creating a pathway to a larger radio audience for its news content, WXXI Public Broadcasting on Tuesday completed its acquisition of Lee Rust’s now-dormant WJZR signal.

About 20 people gathered in a conference room at WXXI’s State Street offices to watch Rust and WXXI President Norm Silverstein sign the papers closing the deal. A sight that WXXI Executive Vice President & General Manager Susan Rogers compared to watching a bride and groom at the altar. Hurry up and sign, she said, “before someone says, ‘I object.’”

And with no objections, the champagne corks were popped.

WJZR-FM (105.9), which aired jazz and blues for nearly three decades, went silent on July 10 after station owner and operator Rust played Miles Davis’ “In a Silent Way.”

“Things change, there’s so many ways to hear music today that, one less radio station…” Rust said, his voice trailing off.

He’s looking forward now to focusing on his photography hobby and tending to the handful of acres he owns in Webster.

“Radio has been supplanted by the Internet,” Rust said. “And I don’t like to see the technology put in the back seat, or out the window, but, you know, that’s the way technology always goes.”

Yet Silverstein sees opportunity.

“We’ve got an opportunity now to really spread out our signal, to make sure that people get it at night, and in the winter months,” Silverstein said. “And we couldn’t have done it without the support and cooperation of Lee Rust. He’s been just terrific.”

That cooperation included Rust reducing the $1.2 million sale price by $525,000.

Over his three decades at WJZR, as well as time spent with other stations in Rochester, Lee witnessed significant changes in radio.

“The early days were a lot more active than now,” he said, “because the automation wasn’t there, and there weren’t computers, it was all people. So the more people it was, the more interesting it was, so the first days when we had 15 or 16 employees, it was crisis every day.”

And yet, “The first day was probably the most exciting, because it was all possible back then.”

The possibilities now include several options for the WXXI partnerships, options that may only reach the ears of radio audiences over the next few years.

WXXI’s radio programming includes local news reporting and the “Connections with Evan Dawson” talk show, as well as nationally syndicated shows such as “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”

With the addition of new equipment to improve its signal, the plan is for the station formerly known as WJZR to carry the same news programming as WXXI-AM (1370).

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.” There’s also a repeater station in Webster.

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.