As I will demonstrate below, Seattle's KUOW is using questionable and disingenuous tactics to undermine its rival public radio station, KPLU. And its use of pledge funds is deceptive at best.
Listeners need to act to ensure that KPLU, by far the region's best public radio station, survives.
What is the latest KUOW misstep? It is creating a jazz station to undermine the jazz programming of KPLU and patently fibbed about it.
The back story.
Last year KUOW/UW and Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) had secret negotiations about the purchase of KPLU. PLU was desperate for cash and mistakenly thought that a secret deal would make things move fast.
When the sale of KPLU to KUOW was announced in November, KPLU listeners were livid. Their beloved station would be gone, with most of the staff fired. KUOW listeners were angry that somehow 4 million dollars ended in a slush fund that KUOW management could use to buy a competitor. But KUOW wanted the sale badly: they would get KPLU's superior transmitters and have a virtual monopoly on public radio money in the region.
Kicking someone who is down does not reflect our values. KPLU is working hard to get on its feet.
The sale was clearly not in the public interest, and with a huge public outcry, UW and PLU decided to give KPLU six months (June 30th) to raise the seven million dollars required by PLU. I was particularly impressed with the role of UW President Ana Mari Cauce, who made it clear that an immediate sale was inconsistent with basic UW values. The community needed to have a chance.
KUOW reluctantly backed off, since the UW was the license holder and was providing some of the funding.
But KUOW was not giving up...and they kept information about an upcoming sale as a banner on top of every one of their web pages. Check out a snapshot tonight from the KUOW information page. The sale doesn't look very delayed does it?
KPLU started a fund drive in January and so far it has been very successful, with KPLU securing donations of over 3.7 million. Clearly, they are on track to secure the needed funds by the deadline.
KUOW was clearly worried. And desperate to derail KPLU's momentum, they announced yesterday that they (KUOW) would immediately start competing with KPLU's bread and butter--jazz and blues programming. KPLU not only has award winning local news and NPR programming, but specializes in jazz/blues through its main radio station (88.5) and streaming through the Jazz24 HD channel (which is very popular and has around 100,000 listeners). To undermine this very popular KPLU jazz offering, KUOW is starting a jazz streaming outlet
called PlanetJazz starting on April 18th.
Why are they doing this? The KUOW claim is that they wanted to get ready in case KPLU could not secure the funding. But that is complete nonsense. Why? First, if KPLU was not able to find the money, KUOW would immediately inherit a fully functioning and popular HD channel Jazz24. Second, it is clear that collecting money at the current rate, KPLU will be able to buy its independence.
So what is KUOW putting a competing jazz outline online? There can be only one reason: to destroy the momentum of the KPLU donation drive.
KUOW listeners should be irate about the total waste of their pledge dollars and donations. To launch this new jazz service, KUOW has retained an expensive consultant and has remade its streaming services. The costs of such an effort, based on my conversations with an industry insider, is at least $50,000 to $100,000. But it is worse than that. KUOW is using millions of dollars of pledge money for the takeover...money that was given in good faith by listeners who were told their contributions were needed to maintain local programming.
And is wasn't true.
The pledge money ended up in a slush fund/reserve account that can used to take over other stations and to hire consultants to create a competing jazz outlet. Even more upsetting is that KUOW is not leveling with its listeners about it. On their web page they deny they are doing it:
This is the kind of language that would make a lawyer proud. They don't FUNDRAISE for the reserve. What they do is to take the surpluses each year and put THAT into the reserve. Plus, whatever interest/income they get from the reserve, which started as contributions. You really have to watch those KUOW folks. They could always become tax lawyers.
Finally, UW and PLU Presidents, Ana Mari Cauce and Thomas Krice, should be upset with KUOW's flaunting the clear intent of the universities to give KPLU a chance to survive under community funding. It makes no sense to give KPLU six months to raise funds and then try to sabotage it with wasteful, competing programming.
What should you do?
If you are a KPLU listener or someone wishing to support KPLU, please pledge as soon as you can