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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org or (828) 337-0941.