November 24, 2015

How to Save KPLU

There is a way to save KPLU that makes everyone a winner.

Give KPLU six months to raise enough money to secure its independence from Pacific Lutheran University (PLU).

Financially strapped PLU will get exactly the same deal being offered by KUOW and the University of Washington:  7 million dollars and 1 million dollars in underwriting.  PLU gets to take over the Neeb building on the PLU campus.

The community gets to keep a beloved radio station, with its extraordinary news operation and world-class jazz programming.

PLU gets the money it needs and will no longer will be viewed as insensitive to the public radio listeners.

The UW will be seen as beneficent and caring, and not  a rich raider ready to end a popular public radio station.

I have talked to a number of people and am convinced that KPLU could raise the needed funds in a few months from its large and appreciative audience. In support of this, I received dozens of emails since my KPLU blog came out, with a number of folks offering to contribute generously if they could save the station.

Raising 7-9 million dollars would not be such as heavy lift, considering that KPLU's audience is nearly 450,000 people.

And there is substantial precedence for this.  KUNC in northern Colorado faced a similar take over attempt, but was able to raise 2 million dollars in a few weeks to establish itself as an independent public radio station (the story is here).  KPLU has a hugely larger and richer audience.
Let PLU and the UW give KPLU six months to secure the necessary funds.  If KPLU fails to do so, they can make the original deal.  Donna Gibbs of PLU suggests that there have conversations for selling off KPLU for over a decade.   Well, it that is true, they can surely wait six more months.

And if KPLU can secure the funds and establish itself as an independent public radio station, then KUOW can use it large stash of cash and investments to increase its local programming, begin to cover the UW more seriously, improve its signal quality, and perhaps shorten its pledge drives.

Talk about win, win, win!


  1. In your earlier post, you wrote:

    "Public Reaction
    In a single phrase: highly negative. There have been about 6-10 major news stories on the sale. Virtually all of the stories are critical. Virtually all the online comments associated with these articles are critical of the sale. Go to the facebook pages of BOTH KPLU and KUOW: essentially all the comments are highly negative."

    It is kind of amusing that you interpret "highly negative" comments on websites as evidence that a majority of the public is against this KUOW/KPLU deal. Haven't you noticed that it is only the unhappy folks who comment? People who are supportive, or more likely, who just don't care, don't bother to comment.

    I really don't like the insinuation that KUOW is somehow the "evil corporate raider." Come on. I totally get that you prefer KPLU and would like Seattle to be a two station town. But why do you need to paint KUOW as evil, fat and fiscally irresponsible? Do you somehow imagine that KUOW is effecting a hostile takeover of KPLU? That is ABSURD.

    I really really object to you encouraging your listeners not to contribute to KUOW. This reminds me of when the NY Times cut its full time environmental reporter and I heard some folks trying to tell people to boycott the Times. This attitude flabbergasts me! I am speculating, but one possible reason PLU decided to sell KPLU is because it was costing the university too much money to make up for the gap that listeners weren't filling. That means listeners weren't donating enough. Producing content is not free. If independent news is important to you, you need to support it by contributing! Again, local news is not an entitlement. It is a privilege to have any of it and it is not cost-free. This will be true whether we have one station or two. Withhold your support and commercial radio will be all we'll have.

    1. Why should we settle for a single, bloated station, KUOW, that takes twice as long to raise money due to its inefficiency?
      Why should we settle for a station that has been cutting back on locally produced programming in its never ending quest for ratings?
      Why should we settle for erratic, unannounced programming and schedule changes that are also blindly ratings driven?
      I don't plan to settle for public radio that excludes KPLU - don't try to discourage others who want to save it.

  2. It is about trust. They waited until just after their pledge drive to announce this takeover. I called today and took back my pledge. I don't get a clear signal from KUOW. I would be paying for nothing.

  3. Let's hope they listen to this idea. Unfortunately, some of the key players in this haven't exactly proven themselves good at listening in the past.

  4. zebra... I can't agree with you. KUOW's been lying about their need for cash. They don't offer much local programming--- that's just a fact. They were offering jazz if they buy KPLU and it's difficult to tell what that means, because they could change the type of "jazz". KPLU plays good stuff, and I wish they'd play it more. I'm not sure what their motivations are. Are they just trying to get rid of competition so they can get more donor money? That's what it seems like, and what are they providing for their money? Frankly, not much.

  5. Wasn't the Neeb Building built with public money?

  6. Oh my god, a radio station that plays tedious jazz music is being sold. This is a disaster. No, wait, you told us recently what "disaster" means and this isn't one.

  7. Agree. I am not much into KPLU's music, but the news is just so good. I would be happy to contribute to saving KPLU as an independent radio station.

    Thank you Cliff for your part in trying to save KPLU as an independent voice in the Northwest.

  8. KUOW has repeatedly lied to its listeners, pleading poverty while sitting on millions of dollars of cash and increasing program underwriting as well (the ads). KPLU has a short fund drive, raising what they need and then ending it... and still ending up $50k over what they asked for, and they run fewer ads during the programming as well. That short-drive surplus ought to tell you something.

    Why the secrecy if this is such an awesome transaction for radio listeners in western Washington? Negotiating in good faith means doing most of it in the open, not surprising staff 20 minutes before a public announcement.

    KUOW also has cut and cut and cut local news and particularly anything investigated in-depth and requiring more than 45 seconds to report. Meanwhile, KPLU continues to innovate, with great coverage of the new district-based Seattle City Council races, for instance. I live in Bellevue and don't care what happens in Seattle all that much and I still found those pieces fascinating glimpses into our neighborhoods, politics, and regional issues overall. It was fantastic journalism and we listened eagerly. We had good car conversations with the kids about what's important for our elected leaders and how to choose. KUOW is not creating those moments of discussion.

    If a public campaign to raise the money and buy the station independently is seriously begun, I'm in for $50. If 1/3 of KPLU's listeners do the same, that's $9 million and the station can be moved off PLU's campus and can continue with a strong independent voice.

    I honestly don't even care about jazz, but I know people love it, and I enjoy Dick Stein's conversations before pressing the big red switch. I usually get to my office right at that cut-over, and it's a good start to my day.

  9. Cliff's on to something. Zebra- do you work for KUOW? And Traveller- there are plenty of top 40 stations for you to listen to...please do.
    Back to Cliff's comments...there is a FCC hearing coming up regarding the sale. How could we proffer this idea? I think you make a good point...if the support isn't there, fine. But if it is, then the community has spoken and the FCC would have to listen, as they are tasked with overseeing the airwaves for the public's good. If the public speaks loudly enough...

  10. Tell me where to sign up. I've got my checkbook ready.

  11. How do we make this happen? I'm ready to signup and donate to the cause!

  12. As am I. They play blues 12 hours total on the weekend. I am not aware of anyone else who does that. I bet KUOW will boot those programs as well as others I like.

    I am taking my $100 annual donation back, and will be happy to put it toward this cause.

  13. Look at what's going on over at KEXP, this community can do this with ease. I'd be more than happy to contribute to an independent kplu. Thank you Cliff for giving this issue a voice; your passion is appreciated

  14. Cliff
    I sent an email today to President Cauce, the UW Board of Regents, as well as Donna Gibbs & Thomas Krise stating my concern with the sneaky process and suggesting allowing KPLU supporters to purchase the station (also to fcc commissioners). The response I got from Norm Arkans on behalf of Cauce does not make me hopeful about your idea. His response was Rah, rah KUOW, its all above board but it seemed their minds are made up and this is a done deal (hopefully you know something the rest of us don't). Krise actually responded personally and stressed the duplication of content, and how having 2 stations weakens public radio here long term. Could be but I agree with others, the UW & PLU have lost all credibility in the way this process has been conducted. It occurs to me that these two stations have co-existed in the big NPR family in our region for years so should be treated equally in this process. If merging the 2 stations is really the best solution to strengthen public radio in Puget Sound, then they need to start from square one, a neutral party should acquire the new station and all staff from both stations should have to resign and re-apply for their jobs. - Paula C

  15. If the argument was there was little difference between the two stations, there isn't. KPLU is focused on the community, KUOW = sheep to be sheared. I prefer KPLU and donate $10/month as a sustaining member. I would donate $100 extra to preserve it. Otherwise, when it is clear the license is gone screw the $10/month.

  16. I was shocked and appalled when I heard about the buyout. I listen to KPLU for the music and the news. Where else can you listen to real jazz on the radio? Or real news, for that matter. (Well, KBCS has a bit of both, but is otherwise very different from KPLU.) I'd definitely donate to save KPLU. As for KUOW and all its changes -- I no longer listen, much less donate.

  17. Just did the math. At US$9M, that's $20 per listener.

    My only concern is that they'll still need a building. I know a good one in Bellevue, but that one houses the studios for KBCS - and even then, I think Bellevue College will be transplanting their station soon as well.

  18. @Zebra:

    "I really really object to you encouraging your listeners not to contribute to KUOW."

    How else would suggest people show their disapproval of KUOW management? Sneer when writing your pledge check, but sending it in anyway? Like it or not, money talks in our society, even to our friends in the NPR crowd.

    The actions of KUOW were surprising, to say the least and don't show a lot of respect to their listeners or the listeners of KPLU. Do you think it was a coincidence that the deal was announced after the conclusion of the fall pledge drive? I strongly suspect this was kept quite, as KUOW knew people would be angry, and would likely withhold their pledges. If this is such a win-win, why the secrecy? The size of their surplus (and how they are going to use it) is a little surprising. Listening to pledge drive, it seems there only a few dollars away from turning off the station lights, and packing it in. Their disgraceful lack of concern with the existing KPLU news staff is sickening. They can apply for jobs at KUOW when the open, like anyone else? Oh, how GENEROUS!

    Add this to the fact that they have effectively dismantled a station I used to love. Can't see much reason to support them financially and have no problem sharing my opinion on this matter.

    If anything, Cliff is being too easy on KUOW. Personally I'd love to see the program director and the station manager fired. Lastly, I'd like to find out the name of the brilliant consultant KUOW hired who told Jeff Hansen that people will only listen to the radio for short periods of time, and that fact can't be changed. Then, I'd apply for a job. I'm just as capable of dispensing stupid advice as anyone else and wouldn't mind my slice of those big consulting dollars. What a laugh that someone actually took this seriously. KUOW's falling ratings speak to the quality of this advice.

  19. Why the argument about contributing to the commercial radio station that KUOW has is not about duplicateation of NPR programming, it is about COMMERCIAL monopoly. So they can increase their listenership and raise more revenue. We know the KUOW model. Why give them the monopoly? And what the hell is "digital HD services"? Sounds like a commercial business advertising their services to me. Folks this is not community radio with local programming. This is a big corporation out to gobble up competition and put it to pasture.

  20. That idea is pure genius. I always thought 8 million was too cheap for kplu. It would be a deal for us!

  21. I posted this on the KPLU Acquisition FaceBook site but I thought I'd put it out here too!

  22. When I arrived in Seattle, I tried listening to KOUW. I didn't care for their programming or their news offerings. I started listening to KPLU with fantastic local coverage highlighted with Austin Jenkins with the political scene in Olympia and coverage of local environmental issues. The list goes on. The loss of that local news programming would be a great loss to the Puget Sound. I can't give much but I'm willing to give to keep the local news programming and same great jazz programming.

  23. Well zebra, we will put you into the category of "really doesn't care one way or another." But yours is literally the very first comment I have heard on ANY of the forums that has anything good to say about KUOW. We have a choice which station we want to listen to and we vote with our eagerly shared dollars to support KPLU. We are not the least bit interested in the dumbed down "mega-station" aspirations of KUOW--as is true in so many areas, bigger means more homogenized, less character, more corporate. KPLU has the 12th largest listenership in the entire nation for public radio stations and, as you may have heard, we completed our last find drive in 3 days with an additional $50,000 raised above the goals. Tell me when KUOW has ever even come close to that. What you are missing the the outrage at how this was carried out--in complete secrecy, with the announcement made to KPLU three hours before it was released to the press. And all of these machinations were going on behind the scenes while we were rewarding our much beloved station with the wildly successful fund drive. And I an one of those who will not send one penny to KUOW if this goes through--I'll just start getting All NPR stations streamed and will find my music elsewhere.

  24. I will support a buyout of KPLU! I have been a financial supporter of KUOW for almost 10 years, and also KPLU for three years. I used to listen to KUOW almost exclusively as I lived in Woodinville and worked in Seattle but local programming quality declined with the shift in Steve Scher’s show from in-depth stories to short snippets, and his eventual departure. When we moved to Snohomish and had really fuzzy service for KUOW I started listening to KPLU. I enjoy the jazz now but I really love the quality local reporters, stories from throughout the region, all of the special segments, and the radio personalities on KPLU. KPLU does a great job of maintaining local, quality programming and has a great mix of music, local programming, and syndicated shows. If KPLU disappears I will just podcast shows rather than supporting KUOW anymore.

  25. My comments mirror many others. KPLU has a great local news staff. KUOW is corporate blah. I'm not a fan of jazz but then again I don't listen to KPLU outside the drive time. I would happily contribute to keeping KPLU as a rare, local and independent news source.

  26. I'd love to participate in a public buyout of KPLU, but not if it includes raiding KBCS for space or market share. Let's focus on support for diverse voices in public radio, not just preservation of a favored station.

  27. As an ex-pat PacNorth Westerner, KPLU has been my umbilical to a region that I learned to love so much. THIS STATION IS UNIQUE NOT JUST TO THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST,BUT TO THE ENTIRE NATION. Give the KPLU staff a chance create a viable alternative to this purchase,and they will deliver!

  28. I'm in, and will contribute if an alternate management proposal is developed to keep kplu independent, especially if it develops more local news and discussion hours that kuow has cut back on.

    Question for Cliff and readers - What about the Group Health sellout? Very similar. Members need to squash this corporate monopoly thinking which is bad for community. Keep it local!

  29. Here in Spokane, I really am a hayseed. I only just learned about the pending sale and destruction of KPLU a week ago! Years ago, Downbeat Magazine called KPLU the best jazz station in the country. Today, the DJs still speak knowledgeably about the music they play, even pronouncing the musicians' names correctly! They don't just play jazz like our local public university station. The KPLU DJs CURATE the music in their playlists, but with swing and craft, like the music itself.

    The news and local commentary is the best of any radio station I've heard across the country. I stream KPLU here in my home office because the local community public radio station makes me listen to classical music all day long. Oh wait, they give us a little jazz late at night on a couple nights a week, and Friday afternoon. They try and maybe they reflect the regional tastes. Their news is, well...

    We started listening to KPLU in our Olympia years back in the 1980s, and with online streaming have been able to stay with this great station. Let me send money to keep KPLU independent and thriving!

  30. Dear Zebra,
    I was a faithful KUOW listener, not knowing that there was an alternative. I found KPLU during one of the offensive and aggressive pledge drives that KUOW holds--that go on forever.
    We have to hear how "We listened to you and shaved a day off our pledge drive", for two months prior to the drive. This station sells continually, and, while they have nver directly said it, the implication is that they are Desperate for Money to Keep the Station on the Air. I've volunteered for community radio and I know what desperate for money and support looks like--and KUOW ain't it.

    I also agree with the idea advanced that they did keep it quiet perhaps because they didn't want a negative reaction from the public.

    However, back to the KUOW issue, since this whole thing has surfaced, there is one question that is nagging at me. "WHY?" Why would KUOW want to buy KPLU? It certainly wouldn't contribute to the diversity of the airwaves. It wouldn't give them something that they lack. What is the motivation behind this action? I keep coming up with something like ego. Other than that, I can't see why they want to do this.

    I'm encouraged to see so many people like myself who really love that station and are willing to work to save it. So, the bid to buy the station actually is turning out to show just how important this station is to many of us.

  31. In. Where do I send the check and for how much?

  32. My only concern is that they'll still need a building. I know a good one in Bellevue, but that one houses the studios for KBCS - and even then, I think Bellevue College will be transplanting their station soon as well. Thanks!
    Helen @raise money.


Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

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