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NPR to continue broadcasting in Palm Beach County

NPR programming is staying in Palm Beach County.

WLRN Public Media, the Miami-based public radio station, has struck a deal with the new owner of WPBI-FM, a radio station that formerly was part of Classical South Florida, a unit of American Public Media in Minnesota.

Starting sometime in November, WLRN will broadcast its National Public Radio content on 101.9, an FM translator that was part of WPBI, which used to broadcast classical music on its strong signal, 90.7.

The 101.9 translator has broadcast NPR to the county for the past several years.

With this arrangement, Palm Beach County will continue to receive NPR programming, an arrangement that WLRN general manager John LaBonia has been working on for several months.

“I can’t imagine an area that doesn’t have NPR service,” especially an area as densely populated as the West Palm Beach market, LaBonia said Friday.

“The idea that the most intelligent and professional news source on the air would be gone is just unacceptable,” he said.

The deal follows the sale of WPBI-FM to Educational Media Foundation (EMF), a Christian music broadcaster based in California. The sale still is awaiting approval from the Federal Communications Commission, but EMF already has begun broadcasting Christian music on 90.7 and changed the station’s call letters to WFLV.

EMF kept the NPR format on 101.9 temporarily at the request of WLRN, until this permanent arrangement was completed. LaBonia said WLRN is reimbursing EMF for the cost of operating the translator.

The station will be called 101.9, NPR for the Palm Beaches.

WPBI’s sale shocked listeners when The Palm Beach Post first revealed the deal in June.

Several board members of WPBI opposed the sale to the Christian broadcaster because the sale eliminated the only FM radio station broadcasting classical music. Others were dismayed by the pending loss of NPR.

Some board members even resigned over the sale. Those that voted against the sale were defeated, and the board approved the deal in June.

With WLRN now broadcasting through the transmitter, central Palm Beach County will continue to receive NPR programming, although the format will change. LaBonia pledged to beef up local Palm Beach County news.

The transmitter is in West Palm Beach, and so the signal is the strongest in the central part of the county. However, the signal is too weak to be heard everywhere.

Southern Palm Beach County picks up the WLRN signal from Miami, and northern Palm Beach County can receive WQCS-88.9 FM, from Indian River State College in Fort Pierce.

That still leaves parts of the county, especially some western portions, unable to receive an NPR signal, said Richard Rampell, a Palm Beach accountant who formerly served on the WPBI board and opposed the station’s sale to EMF.

As a result, Rampell still hopes to strike a deal to buy the stronger signal, 90.7, from EMF.

Rampell said he has financial commitments of at least $500,000 but he needs more money.

If Rampell, former board member Vicki Kellogg and their group are successful in buying the station, Rampell said he’d like to see the signal broadcast both classical music and NPR.

Classical music remains a major issue for numerous listeners. Classical music is available on WLRN’s HD-2 radio channel, but an HD Radio receiver is required to pick up the free broadcast. The receivers are available at local electronic retailers and online.

The HD station also is available online or through the WLRN app on mobile devices.

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