I used to live in Charlottesville, which is heaven for the noncommercial radio fan. You get three NPR stations there, a community rock station and a free-form channel from the University of Virginia.
I was sad to leave the variety behind when I moved to Richmond in 2006, but I soon discovered that my new city, too, was up to standard, with two volunteer-run stations (WRIR and WDCE), an NPR affiliate — WCVE — and WNRN, the community station sent here by a repeater signal from Charlottesville. And now our radio heaven is complete with RADIO IQ, an all news and talk station airing in Richmond at 92.5 FM since July. It originates from WVTF, the Roanoke-based public-radio powerhouse that covers Southwest Virginia.
Having a new kid on the block may not be WCVE's idea of heaven, although Bill Miller, the station's general manager, and Curtis Monk, its president and CEO, don't seem too worried about their turf. "I can't speak for what WVTF is trying to do," Monk says. Miller adds, "It's difficult for me to say whether they're treading on our territory."
RADIO IQ's weekday schedule is familiar to public-radio geeks: Morning Edition, The Diane Rehm Show, Fresh Air, Talk of the Nation and All Things Considered . Those programs either air on WCVE's FM frequency, 88.9, or on its high-definition channel, sometimes in overlapping timeslots.
I wondered how that's fair — it's not like another Richmond AM station gets to play Glenn Beck's show at the same time as WRVA does.
NPR doesn't have a noncompete policy for full-member stations, Miller says. "I think the network's interest is in distribution." Indeed, both WCVE and WVTF have gone to great lengths to provide coverage to parts of the state with low populations, from the Northern Neck to Virginia's coal country.
WCVE's FM station maintains its tradition of classical music during the daylight hours and overnight on weekdays, but its HD-2 frequency, available only on high-def radios or online, offers Diane Rehm's interview show, as well as Fresh Air and Talk of the Nation.
WCVE took the high-def route because "that's what was available to us," Miller says. "Noncommercial outlets don't want to let go of their [FM] frequencies." WVTF, however, just acquired a translator in 2008 to broadcast RADIO IQ here, which is different from purchasing a full-power second station, as WCVE would have had to do, Miller notes.
Miller says HD radio costs are going down (as low as $35 to $40), and some experts say they're the wave of the future. But right now, RADIO IQ reaches a broader audience; it broadcasts from a local Clear Channel tower, allowing coverage from Short Pump to Midlothian to Mechanicsville, according to WVTF general manager Glenn Gleixner.
Gleixner notes that although RADIO IQ schedule "looks competitive," in fact, WVTF "wants to work with WCVE to enhance public radio" in the region. While he has encouraged Richmonders to continue to donate to WCVE, he says he hopes RADIO IQ will get a piece of the pie. "If people find value in what we're offering, we certainly hope they'll support it."
He says the newcomer may "complement" WRIR, the independent, volunteer-run station that airs Talk of the Nation and other public-radio shows, along with local music programming.
"There is no jeopardy to any station's programming," Gleixner says.
Still, I wonder what's going to happen when pledge season comes around.