Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Why are PLU and UW Administrators Working to End KPLU? What can you do about it?

An unnecessary regional tragedy is now occurring.

Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) is planning on selling KPLU, a hugely successful public radio station valued by 430,000 listeners, to the University of Washington's KUOW.  KPLU will be terminated, its award-winning news operation ended, its special programs lost (e.g., birdnote), and its unique blend of jazz/blues and extraordinary hosts let go.  KUOW only promises to have some kind of jazz outlet.

A healthy, growing, and loved public radio station is being destroyed.  A desperately needed local news organization will be ended.  The reputations of both PLU and UW are being damaged.

And as we will see below, this disaster is absolutely unnecessary.  It is the scheme of some isolated college administrators that appear to have little concern for the interests of public radio listeners in our region.  Administrators that have have acted with great secrecy and have been willing to misinform the public about the necessity of the sale.  Administrators that care so little for KPLU listeners that they refuse to give KPLU a chance to raise funds to purchase its independence.

The deal:  UW/KUOW will pay PLU seven million dollars,  plus 1 million in free underwriting (advertising).   PLU also gets the new NEEB building, which was built with donations from KPLU listeners.  The UW gets all the other assets of KPLU, including its frequencies, transmitters, and repeaters.

So why is this happening?  Whose idea was it?

We know the answer to this.   PLU approached UW earlier this year, offered up KPLU for cash.   Two people at PLU are responsible for this:  President Thomas Krise and VP for Communications Donna Gibbs.

 PLU President Krise
VP Donna Gibbs

Both Krise and Gibbs are recent arrivals (during the last two years), with little understanding of the local community or the value of KPLU.  Krise has revealed a contemptuous attitude to those that question his decision.   A sample:

 I can tell that many people’s passions are very strong and may overwhelm their reason. --Thomas Krise in his statement found here.

President Krise claims the sale was for the good of local public radio and that is wasn't because of PLU's financial state.   That public radio is shrinking as is the value of the radio station.  Which conflicts with the facts.  Killing a healthy, growing, and financially robust local radio station is not making a contribution to public radio, and the truth is that PLU, not KPLU, is in serious financial trouble, with its bonds-rating status downgraded and enrollment dropping seriously.  Donna Gibbs is pushing the same line, suggesting that public radio is declining each year, as is the value of the KPLU asset.   Simply nonsense.  KPLU was growing stronger and larger each year. Their pledge drives were wildly successful.  She is either misinformed or not being straight about the facts.

And what about the UW?   High UW administrators tell me that the purchase was not their idea and that KPLU would have failed without KUOW intervention.   Surely, with a modest bit of checking, they would have realized this was not true.

But I can understand why KUOW wanted the sale.  KUOW IS a weakening public radio station.  Its listenership is dropping.   The major overhaul in programming of recent years (like dumping valued local shows like Weekday and replacing with repetitive syndicated content) has alienated listeners and contributors.  Its signal was inadequate in many areas.  Its pledge drives were excessively long.   For a modest investment (using millions of redirected pledges from KUOW listeners), KUOW can terminate is superior competition, secure ALL the regional public radio pledge money, and gain KPLU's superior transmitters.

 No wonder KUOW's leadership loves this deal.  And why key UW administrators, particularly UW VP Norm Arkans, are pushing for it.  Norm is the UW's point person for KUOW and is a strong supporter of the current (and failing) programming approach.


So PLU, probably because of its failing finances, was desperate to sell KPLU and UW/KUOW saw an opportunity to secure a virtual monopoly on public radio in western Washington.   Together, PLU/UW plotted secretly to make a deal.  So secret that when the issue was taken up at the UW Board of Regents, the agenda items was mislabeled "KUOW LICENSE".   A direct violation of the Washington State Open Meetings Law (not the first time).   So secret that the UW Faculty Senate was not told about the potential sale.  So secret that KPLU staff were not informed until hours before the announcement.  And certainly the public, who had a profound interest in KPLU was not told.  For a public university like the UW, the owner of a profoundly important public asset (PLU of KPLU) to make such a huge decision without public input or process suggests a disdain for those they should be serving.  The public had no voice in the future of local Public Radio.

The Other Option:  An Independent KPLU

The two universities, in a rush to make a secret deal, avoided a superior option for listeners and the community:  giving KPLU a chance to raise money to buy its freedom from PLU.     PLU administrators knew about this option before the secret deal was announced, but choose not to consider it.

The independent KPLU option is a straightforward one:  give KPLU a few months to raise the necessary cash to pay PLU the 7 million dollars, as well as roughly an extra million dollars for initial set-up costs.  For a station with nearly a half-million listeners, such fund raising is quite possible and there is great reason to expect it could be successful in weeks or months.   KPLU would end up stronger than ever, without the drag of all its responsibilities to PLU (like helping faculty with audio visual issues).  PLU would get its cash and listeners could retain a valued radio station.  I can't tell you how many folks told me they were ready to make major donations for an independent KPLU.

Huge Public Reaction Against the Sale

The public against this sale. KPLU has been inundated by nearly 3000 supportive emails.  Social media sites for KUOW and PLU are full of critical comments.  Thousands have signed online petitions for the sale to be stopped.  PLU administrators are being hit by huge numbers of emails.  Op-eds against the sale are found in many local newspapers.  The public wants to save this public radio station.  But university administrators are not listening.

The PR Disaster

One of the great ironies of this public relations (PR) disaster is that it is being pushed by the PLU Marketing and Communications VP Donna Gibbs.    Instead of allowing KPLU to secure its independence in a gracious way, PLU is destroying the station and alienating thousands of listeners and PLU alumni, some of which are threatening to cut off their contributions to PLU.  And this won't help PLU student recruitment either.    The UW brand is also sullied, with the rich/powerful UW coming off as a corporate raider unconcerned that is destroying a radio stationed loved by hundreds of thousands of local residents.    Alienating hundreds of thousands of folks is not good PR.  KPLU gave PLU a voice and exposure far above its "weight."   Was it a good decision to throw this way? And to do so in a very public way?

Why does the public have no say in public radio?

Time for the Community to Intervene

It is time for the public of public radio to intervene.  That means many of you who read this blog.  UW and PLU administrations are rapidly putting these deal together and plan on signing a contract by Dec. 18th.   This needs to be stopped.

Please write and email the PLU and UW key administrators, as well as the PLU and UW regents, telling them to hold off and give KPLU a chance to secure financing.  (contact info below)

Contact your local media outlets, write letters and op-eds, and leave comments on PLU/UW/KUOW facebook pages.

Let KUOW know that if they have so much cash for take-overs, you will not be pledging anymore.

 But whatever you do, do it quickly.  Time is of the essence.

And if you want more information, go to savekplu.org

We can save KPLU, but it will take major pressure on the decision makers.

Contact Lists

PLU President:
Thomas Krise (krisetw@plu.edu)
PLU Communications VP:
Donna Gibbs (gibbsdl@plu.edu)

PLU Board of Regents:
Ed Grogan (ed@summitplans.com)
Brad Tilden (brad.tilden@alaskaair.com)
Tony Hicks (tony.hicks@hospira.com)
Mack Hogans (hmackmack@msn.com)
Matt Iseri (MattIseri@TokuSaku.com)
Richard Jaech (jaechre@plu.edu)
Lisa Kittilsby (lisak@gravelpits.com)
Lisa Korsmo (lkorsmo@cloverpark.k12.wa.us)
Mark Miller (mark.miller@plumcreek.com)
Jonette Blakney (Pastor.ShepherdoftheHills@gmail.com)
Susan Caulkins (scaulkins@dpearson.com)
Andrew Finstuen (andrewfinstuen@boisestate.edu)
Darren Hamby (dhamby@fhlbsea.com)   -  Invalid address???
Jeffrey Rippey (jeff@jrippey.com)
Laura Rothenberger (lrothenb@uw.edu)
Jan Ruud (jruud@smlutheran.org)
Laurie Soine (lsoine@u.washington.edu)
Charleen Tachibana (charleen.tachibana@vmmc.org)
Martin Wells (msmmwells@aol.com)
Osamu Matsutani (osamu.matsutani@hcahealthcare.com)

UW Board of Regents:
Bill Ayer (bill.ayer@alaskaair.com)   - Invalid Address???
Kristianne Gates Blake (kristib@ptera.net)
Jeremy Jaech (j_jaech@hotmail.com)
Vanessa Kritzer (vkritzer@uw.edu)
Patrick Shanahan (patrick.m.shanahan@boeing.com)
Herb Simon (simonjohnson@simonjohnsonllc.com)
Orin Smith (osmith30@comcast.net)
Rogelio Riojas (rogelioriojas@seamarchc.org)
Joanne Harrell (jharrell@microsoft.com)

KUOW Board of Directors:
Chris Higashi (chris.higashi@spl.org)
Colleen Echohawk (colleen@chiefseattleclub.org)
Dennis Kenny (dennis@illuminage.com)
Indranil Ghosh (Indranil.Ghosh@premera.com)
Jon Schorr (schorr@carneylaw.com)
Judith Endejan (jendejan@gsblaw.com)
Nelson Dong (dong.nelson@dorsey.com)
Shauna Causey (shauna@everymove.com)
Steve Hill (steve.hill@pinchot.edu)
Susan Queary (squeary@badermartin.com)
Vivian Phillips (VivianP@STGPresents.org)
Wier Harman (wier@townhallseattle.org)


William Griswold said...

Excellent article Cliff. Thank you and thank you for compiling all the emails. They will come in handy.

Unknown said...

Lots of thunder and lightening in Ballard Wednesday morning at 0600 to go with the wind and rain.

WingsOfMan said...

Indeed Kudos for providing some of us with the most detailed info on this subject. Well beyond what most of us have read about. I have sent along my very opinionated emails, and hope others will do the same. All the same, Happy Holidays.
Christopher Ray

solarbird said...

I got a reply from President Krise telling me I was "misinformed" and that KUOW had _loads_ of interest in local news and local programming, to which I could only respond, "I am apparently misinformed by the _actual programming decisions at KUOW_." He didn't respond to that.

Unknown said...

Cliff, you're spot on - but your 'drag of helping faculty with AV' quip I s ill-informed. Until now, KPLU benefited greatly from its relationship with the college, it's faculty and students. And vice versa. I don't know anyone at KPLU who thought otherwise.

Other than that, keep up the onslaught!

Begreen said...

Sent a request for allowing KPLU to come up with the money for an alternative sale. Keep spreading the word and thanks for posting the email addresses.

Unknown said...

Message sent and tone-deaf reply received from "PLU Regents". I don't know if they don't get it or if they just don't care.

I notice that the FCC commissioners are not on the list of people to contact. Is it worth contacting them?

Kenna Wickman said...

I got the same lame responses from both KUOW people and the PLU Board of Regents. They just don't get it:

1) The public was not asked about the decision and the decision was made in back room deals

2) KPLU's public doesn't trust KUOW given how they handled Cliff Mass, not to mention how their station has deteriorated programming-wise over the last few years.

3) They aren't even acknowledging the idea of a grass roots entity purchasing KPLU instead and allowing it to thrive and grow.

They may have violated the State Open Meetings Law and may have set themselves up for a court injunction (I hope one is in the works!) or even a lawsuit. One thing for certain is that this is a public relations disaster that is hurting both KUOW and Pacific Lutheran University.

We need to keep up the pressure!

Carpe Diem said...

GOT IT! Thanks for the list. I just sent a message to each one, but I should have done it during business hours as 10 of them got bounced back to me as undeliverable. I'll resend tomorrow during the day, AND send a new one every day.

John E Vidale said...

Interesting news story:

psuedo said...

I have to echo the earlier comment made above. I graduated from PLU a few years ago, and KPLU never helped professors with classroom equipment. The university has a separate media center that assists with a/v equipment in classrooms and offices. Unless you have facts to back up that claim, you should amend/delete it.

The only time I ever saw KPLU interact with professors was during December when they collaborated with the music department to put on the holiday jazz show which was a win/win for everyone.

Otherwise, you're spot on.

public radio listener said...

Thanks for your help with this, Cliff. I have written everyone. What about the FCC? What sort of argument might appeal to them to stop the sale?

Pamela said...

As a PLU retiree and PLU alum I am at a loss for words as to the President's train of thought in this disaster. He is the new guy, just a little over 3 years and he and his side kick Donna Gibbs believe that PLU is their empire to do with as they please. That's not the Lutheran way, and Martin Luther has about 95 Theses to prove it. What happened to love your neighbor??

Cedarspring said...

I know this PLU issue is very important to you, and I respect your right to discuss it (it's your blog). I wish, however, that your blog could just stick to weather topics and important environmental issues related to weather. The PLU issue is an unrelated political distraction that lessens the quality of your otherwise outstanding publication. Could the PLU issue be discussed in a different forum? Your readers who do not care about radio media politics, or listen to radio, or have zero interest in Jazz, risk being bored to death. Some may also feel that another dramatic political issue is being forced on them. There are dozens of daily business mergers and buyouts that are more important to the general public that this one. For example, you could discuss the coming buyout of Group Health by Kaiser Permanente which will affect maybe five orders of magnitude more people than the PLU buyout. Including that business merger in your weather blog to the extent you have discussed the PLU radio station issue would nevertheless would be both misplaced and INCREDIBLY BORING to your dedicated readers. Thanks for all the great work over the years on your WEATHER blog; my wife and I look forward to it every day. We have also used your work to get our children interested in meteorology and environmental awareness.

Einar Osterhaug said...

I cancelled my monthly contribution to KUOW and told them why. Doubled my contribution to KSER
(now that is community radio!) If you haven't done so already I suggest you do. Money talks

Tony said...

Cedarspring ... how arrogant of you stating
"Your readers who do not care about radio media ..."

Why don't you start AND MAINTAIN your OWN blog
about what others care or not care about!

Cedarspring said...

So much anger,why? Read my comment again to understand more clearly. It states "Your readers who do not care about radio media ..." That clearly means the statement is referring to those readers of the blog who prefer not to see political coverage. It does NOT refer to readers who want to see political issues discussed in this weather blog. Give me a break and try not to let your anger control your comments. My post is clear and respectful. Your post is not.

Unknown said...

@Cedarspring From the first line at the top of the blog: "This blog provides updated forecasts and comments on current weather or other topics". This is one of those "other topics".

I don't live in the city of Seattle and I don't care much about their school board elections. But Doc Mass has some important things to say on that subject from time to time, and many are glad to get his perspective. I just skip them and it has never occurred to me to whine about his writing about non-weather topics that I'm not personally interested in.

Mike Mahanay said...

Thanks for the emails. I contacted them all!

The Regents say it is for the health of University - clearly the radio station and the public are not a consideration. Too bad, I expect more.

Cedarspring said...

@Unknown@Tony The official title of the blog is "Cliff Mass Weather Blog". My comments are suggestions that off topic posts might better be placed in a forum of their own. How may readers are going to look in a weather blog for discussions on school board elections or radio station mergers? It may be true that many are glad to get his perspective on other issues, but there are some of us who are not. Those of us who would prefer this blog stick to content applicable to the title should not be criticized as either "arrogant" or "whining" for commenting with content suggestions.

Sue Willard said...

Thank you for the email addresses. If you are counting, I contacted PLU president & admin, almost all the PLU regents, except dhamby@fhlbsea.com. That one rebounded. Said no one with that name at that site.

Slow but sure, I'll follow up with the other contacts.

And I told a lot of other people about this. They were shocked and commented that they didn't know about the impending sale because they enjoyed the radio station, but did not visit the website.