Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:

Question: You’ve likely already heard from a number of people who are furious about BPR’s Classic radio switch to 107.9. Here’s one more, and it reflects a number of people where I live and friends throughout this area. On the day of the switch I got up, switched channels and got – STATIC. I’m told I have to get antennas, and this is on my clock radio, my BOSE (where do you find one of those?), and our short wave. The only radio that switched effectively was in my car. All attempts to get results from the station don’t work. I have several friends in my retirement community and several around town who have expressed real dismay. In fact everyone I talk to is cutting their yearly giving to minimum or not at all. I’m not sure if they will resolve the issue or why they didn’t resolve it before they made the switch. I’ve loved the local public radio since I moved here over 20 years ago, and have donated generously, am angry, and will switch my giving to other charities. Thanks for listening. BPR hasn’t helped, and streaming isn’t the answer for this problem.

My answer: But have you tried streaming? I jest. Please, don’t kill me in my sleep while playing BPR static real loud to cover the noise.

BPR general manager Jeff Pope

Real answer: I have indeed heard from a few folks about this, none of them happy about it. BPR General Manager Jeff Pope, who responded to my questions via email, also has gotten an earful, or email-ful.

As Pope explains, the initiative, called “The Big Switch,” swapped the 20 frequencies of BPR’s two channels of service — BPR News and BPR Classic — to bring more news to more people in 14 counties and the Qualla Boundary in Western North Carolina. Since it took effect Oct. 31, BPR has heard from over 200 listeners.

“About 40 percent of the feedback is in support of this transition, with listeners appreciating having the increased reception and access to the 13 frequencies of BPR News, which airs journalism from BPR, regional news partners, and contributors such as the BBC, NPR, and other public media news producers,” Pope said, noting that BPR’s weekly audience is 96,000.

Blue Ridge Public Radio made its “Big Switch” in late October, swapping the 20 frequencies of BPR’s two channels of service – BPR News and BPR Classic – to bring more news to more people in 14 counties and the Qualla Boundary in Western North Carolina. But some listeners can’t get the signal and have expressed displeasure with the move

As you might’ve guessed, if just 40 percent of the feedback was positive, well …

“Sixty percent of the audience feedback that BPR has received is negative,” Pope said. “These listeners primarily are contacting BPR to share that they no longer have radio reception for the 7 broadcast or 1 HD2 frequencies of BPR Classic, which airs classical music from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. each weekday.”

BPR has its main office and studio in downtown Asheville, but it serves most of Western North Carolina.

The areas most affected by the Big Switch are Black Mountain, Candler, Fairview, Franklin, Mars Hill, Murphy, and Weaverville.

As far as why BPR, based in downtown Asheville, made this decision, Pope said the station did not make it lightly, and they understand it feels like a loss for some listeners.

The station’s board of directors and its community advisory forum reviewed the proposed changes, which came after extensive planning.

“Access to timely and trusted local news and information is a public good that is crucial to democracy and this region, but increasingly, numerous WNC communities don’t have access to the Internet, or residents can’t afford it,” Pope said. “BPR’s Big Switch is an initial step to help reverse this trend and ensure access to trusted news, connection, and respectful civic dialogue across the region with free broadcast service to create a more informed and inspired civil society.”

Pope offered a tip, too: To locate a BPR frequency near you, enter your street address into BPR’s Frequency Finder to view a list of frequencies that you may be able to receive. This tool is also on BPR’s free mobile app, which uses your device’s location to provide a list of nearby frequencies.

Mountainous terrain and interference from other signals may affect your reception.

On a side note, I live in Fletcher, in Henderson County, and the app works great for me. It’s the easiest way to listen to BPR.

Pope said BPR is “also investing significantly in its digital streaming, with a reliable and scalable service currently in place.

“Listeners with access to wi-fi that cannot receive BPR Classic or BPR News on their FM radios can stream it on BPR.org or via their mobile device,” he said.

BPR has multiple transmitters throughout the mountains to deliver its programs to listeners.

Regarding whether the 107.9 FM reception issue will be resolved, and why it wasn’t resolved before Oct. 31, that gets complicated.

“BPR’s frequencies are licensed by the Federal Communications Commission with specific parameters such as antenna type, height above ground, and allowed power,” Pope said. “Increasing power to any antenna requires significant funding investments and approval from the F.C.C.”

Owning and expanding 20 frequencies has occurred over time for BPR.

“Its first licensed frequency was 88.1 FM, broadcasting at 110 watts from the campus of UNC Asheville in 1979,” Pope said. “Over time in a process that involved securing more optimal broadcast locations, applications with the F.C.C., and upgraded equipment, this frequency improved to what it is today, broadcasting at 1,900 watts from Hightop Mountain outside of Asheville.”

BPR also has applied for and received numerous additional frequencies from the F.C.C. in the last 40-plus years, expanding its services throughout the region. Additionally, BPR bought two frequencies from universities (90.5 FM WYQS from Mars Hill University and 90.5 FM WZQS from Western Carolina University) that expanded its services.

“In all cases, these improvements have taken time (decades in several instances) and significant capital investment to achieve owning 20 frequencies,” Pope said.

Pope also got into the nuts and bolts of why the reader can’t hear 107.9 in their area.

“Put simply, BPR’s Big Switch swapped the 88.1 FM Asheville signal for the 107.9 FM signal, and the 107.9 FM broadcast is significantly less powerful and lower in elevation than the 88.1 broadcast,” Pope said. “As such, 107.9 FM covers a smaller geographic area than 88.1 FM.”

Pope stressed that this is the first step for BPR.

“As noted above, BPR is always looking for opportunities to expand or improve its broadcast coverage areas to improve its service to the region,” he said. “BPR is evaluating its financial and organizational capacity to pursue two promising opportunities that would improve the coverage of the BPR Classic broadcast network.”

That investment “would likely top $200,000,” Pope added.

So …

“Support from listeners like your reader can make that possible,” he said.

[Editor’s Note: Blue Ridge Public Radio is one of several publishing partners of Asheville Watchdog, and former BRPR general manager David Feingold is a Watchdog strategic advisor.]


Got a question? Send it to John Boyle at  jboyle@avlwatchdog.org or (828) 337-0941.

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11 Comments

  1. “increasingly, numerous WNC communities don’t have access to the Internet, or residents can’t afford it”

    Which would make it very hard to stream the service via an app, if you can’t get over-the-air reception.

    I understand and approve of the Big Switch. But the “just stream it” response is on a par with “let them eat cake.”

  2. I support the switch. I don’t want to listen to classical music, and I do want to hear more news and reporting.

  3. One day Asheville might acquire AVL BPR channels, 4 local AVL tv channels, a Costco, and an Apple Store. And perhaps The Citizen Times will have its own building again and staff it with 40 local reporters. Or the town will continue to shrivel into a backwater with an empty mall and larger Amazon delivery warehouse.

  4. Survival depends upon one’s ability to adapt. The broadcast service in question has adapted; in order to continue to enjoy their broadcast, all one has to do is adapt with them.

  5. I am glad you responded to this John because it reminds me I need to register my satisfaction with the switch. I am not surprised more people are complaining, because those like me who are happy are less likely to reach out. I live in Fairview and really appreciate being able to listen to quality news programming on my way in and out of Asheville. Previously, anything south of I-40 was a no-news zone.

  6. Thanks John for pursuing this question. I understand the reasons for making this switch. Unfortunately, I am probably one of the few BPR supporters who primarily listen to Classical Music while in their car. Thus, streaming is not an option unless I am willing to shell out for an unlimited cellular data plan. Since I have lost my ability to listen in my car, I will need to evaluate my level of support. I will be on the lookout for fund raising that specifically targets the classical frequency upgrades.

  7. “Mountain terrain may affect reception.” Yeah, FM radio is like that. However, I get static (Woodfin) on the radio I wake up to, on 107, and 88 is fine. Sure, I pay through the nose for streaming five stations on Sirius for the car, one being classical, as that is the music of choice for me since I turned 10. But when we moved here 15 yrs ago from D.C., where there were great stations of course, I was concerned this would be a country western, gospel wasteland. I was thrilled there was a classical station. Sadly, I fear that children, students, young adults who can’t spend $500 a year for the luxury of streaming will never be exposed to music that transcends pop culture and influencers.

  8. My problem with the “Big Switch” is not so much with the actual event but with BPR’s messaging around it. As I live downtown, I am able to get both frequencies well, although I do lose BPR Classic sometimes when driving around town.

    BPR grandly announced numerous times that 250,000 additional people would be able to receive BPR News. Great! But they certainly didn’t mention that 250,000 people would lose classical music service.

    They also announced many times that they had been promising this change to listeners for a long time. I have lived here eight years and listen to Morning Edition and All Things Considered almost every day, as well as a considerable amount of classical music. Not once did I ever hear this ‘promise’. They have occasionally said, especially during pledge periods, that they were looking for gifts to “expand” news coverage. So, another failure to communicate honestly and transparently.

    This all reminds me of what BPR said at the time of Chip Kaufman’s retirement as morning classical host. The station said that they were looking forward to finding another local host for that segment. Have they done that in the numerous years since Chip left? No. Instead, they have provided us with a steady stream of canned, syndicated shows from Minnesota Public Radio and other similar stations. For the most part, these programs play short snippets of music without much thoughtful background. So, I frequently listen to WQXR (New York) or WFMT (Chicago) on my Alexa (you can also stream them from your computer or install their apps on your smartphone). These are two of the best classical music stations in the country.

    In summary, I think BPR needs to thoughtfully reconsider the way it communicates with its audience, what it claims to promise and how it fulfills those promises.

    I still think that BPR provides a great service to this area and am glad we have it! I just think they need to be bit more careful in their messaging.

  9. The last thing my mental health needs is more news and more talk. 107.9 just doesn’t come in well enough for me, so I stopped my monthly donation. I still appreciate their excellent work and wish them all the best.

  10. I agree with Mr. Paine. As long as you can stream, just use Chicago and New York stations for classical music. BPR will be slightly missed, because we will miss the local news snippets and weather reports. Better, more concise local news on Watchdog. We can adjust!

    I wish there weren’t so many who cannot stream and and might wish to learn and be inspired by Classical Music.

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