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.
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.
PLU President: Thomas Krise (firstname.lastname@example.org) PLU Communications VP: Donna Gibbs (email@example.com) PLU Board of Regents: Ed Grogan (firstname.lastname@example.org) Brad Tilden (email@example.com) Tony Hicks (firstname.lastname@example.org) Mack Hogans (email@example.com) Matt Iseri (MattIseri@TokuSaku.com) Richard Jaech (firstname.lastname@example.org) Lisa Kittilsby (email@example.com) Lisa Korsmo (firstname.lastname@example.org) Mark Miller (email@example.com) Jonette Blakney (Pastor.ShepherdoftheHills@gmail.com) Susan Caulkins (firstname.lastname@example.org) Andrew Finstuen (email@example.com) Darren Hamby (firstname.lastname@example.org) - Invalid address??? Jeffrey Rippey (email@example.com) Laura Rothenberger (firstname.lastname@example.org) Jan Ruud (email@example.com) Laurie Soine (firstname.lastname@example.org) Charleen Tachibana (email@example.com) Martin Wells (firstname.lastname@example.org) Osamu Matsutani (email@example.com) UW Board of Regents: Bill Ayer (firstname.lastname@example.org) - Invalid Address??? Kristianne Gates Blake (email@example.com) Jeremy Jaech (firstname.lastname@example.org) Vanessa Kritzer (email@example.com) Patrick Shanahan (firstname.lastname@example.org) Herb Simon (email@example.com) Orin Smith (firstname.lastname@example.org) Rogelio Riojas (email@example.com) Joanne Harrell (firstname.lastname@example.org) KUOW Board of Directors: Chris Higashi (email@example.com) Colleen Echohawk (firstname.lastname@example.org) Dennis Kenny (email@example.com) Indranil Ghosh (Indranil.Ghosh@premera.com) Jon Schorr (firstname.lastname@example.org) Judith Endejan (email@example.com) Nelson Dong (firstname.lastname@example.org) Shauna Causey (email@example.com) Steve Hill (firstname.lastname@example.org) Susan Queary (email@example.com) Vivian Phillips (VivianP@STGPresents.org) Wier Harman (firstname.lastname@example.org)