January 24, 2016

Saving Public Radio in Western Washington: Financing an Independent KPLU and Reforming KUOW

If we care about public radio in western Washington.
If we believe in independent sources of news and other programming in a period when traditional media (TV news, major papers like the Seattle Times) are hollowing out.

Then we need to act.

Specifically, we must join together to provide funding for the KPLU transition to an independent station rather than being sold to KUOW.

And here is where you need to go: http://kplu.org/save-kplu

The basic situation has been described in this blog and the local media.  Last year, Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) decided to sell its public radio station (KPLU) and made secret plans to transfer KPLU to UW for seven million dollars.  The KPLU staff would have been fired and and the 16-member KPLU news team would have been disbanded.   KUOW, the other Puget Sound public radio station, would get KPLU's superior transmitters, a public radio monopoly in the region, and would maintain some kind of jazz presence on a secondary channel.

KPLU listeners were outraged as were many others.  KPLU is a vibrant, popular station with roughly the same number of listeners as KUOW.   It has an international reputation for quality jazz//blues programming and its award-winning news/local coverage is far superior to the fare provided by KUOW. KPLU has engaging hosts, extensive local and unique programming, and an endearing charm.

The negative reaction to the secret sale was widespread, intense, and effective.  So effective that PLU and the UW agreed to put off the transfer for 6 months, giving a community group time to raise the 7 million dollars.
The bottom line:  if the community can pull together 7 million dollars by June 30th, KPLU will be saved.  If not, KUOW will take on KPLU's assets and KPLU will cease to exist.

There are roughly 430,000 weekly listeners to KPLU.  If everyone gave 20 dollars, it would be over, KPLU would be saved.   But it never works that way. Many folks don't contribute and others need to do more.   After two weeks, roughly $800,000 in pledges have been made, which is an excellent start.

If Paul Allen, Bill or Melinda Gates, Jeff Bezos, or one the fortunate hi-tech millionaires in town are reading this, please consider a major donation...that could make a huge difference.

An independent KPLU would not be just as good as it is today, it could be even better, unfettered by the constraints imposed on it by PLU.  It would be deeply responsive to its listeners.

And then there is KUOW.  Its leadership it still lusting after KPLU's superior transmitters and the potential to have a monopoly on local pledge money.  Go to the KUOW's web site and they have all kind of information of how they are getting ready "just in case" and how excellent their offerings would be if they took over KPLU.
From the KUOW website.

KUOW even has a letter on its web site detailing what they would do if they took over KPLU....and it is very disturbing reading.  Instead of keeping KPLU's beloved jazz programming and hosts, KUOW hired an outsider to design its jazz outlet.    KUOW would hire four new news staffers, but KPLU has 16 reporters/new staff.  The result?  A loss of 12 news folks.  And KUOW has no plans for additional local programming.

KUOW management is saying there is too much "duplication" in having two public radio stations doing news....which makes little sense.  First, the news coverage provided by the stations is very different.  Second, this is like the NY Post telling the NY Times to cease publication because they are both doing NY news stories. Competition is essential and makes everyone better.

This is a situation in which a failing, but money-rich, public radio station wants to take over a highly successful, popular, and superior competitor.  Classic corporate take over.  And I will let you muse over the ethical implications of the use of pledge money, acquired by telling listeners it was needed for keeping the lights on, and the turning around and using the money for a takeover.

And don't doubt that KUOW is failing.  During the past few years, it has gotten rid of most of its local programming, such as the popular Weekday show, and replaced it with nationally syndicated pablum.   KUOW listenership is declining, while KPLU's in increasing.  Want the proof?  Here are the weekly radio listenership statistics for 2009, 2010, 2014, and 2015 (I blanked out the middle two years because of the 2012 election, which skews the statistics).  KPLU (blue) is up.  KUOW (red is down).  KING-FM (classical music) is up.

KUOW listeners are unhappy:  read the comments on the Facebook site to get a taste of the discontent.

So instead of trying to buy regional dominance by killing the competition, KUOW should use it large financial surplus to greatly enhance its local programming, creating new offerings that are unique and regional.  Start covering the UW with extended interviews with faculty and rebroadcasts of engaging lectures.

Fortunately, the future of our regional public radio is in your hands.  Make a pledge towards building a new independent KPLU and the KUOW wolf will be kept at bay.  Please visit: http://kplu.org/save-kplu

Don't worry little lamb.  After I take over your assets, 
things will be much better for everyone!


  1. Thanks Cliff for your honest discussion.
    Most of us hope KPLU will succeed,
    and your efforts probably will just make it happen.

  2. I pledged to donate $100, and I am currently unemployed ... that's how much I want to help save KPLU!

  3. I agree with you completely. KPLU's local news is so much better than KUOW! I have been shocked by just how bad KUOW has become. The Record program is awful - little news bits that satisfy only those with an 8 second attention span. And the morning programing after Morning Edition - well - I can't even listen to The Takeaway. And, after Steve Scher left, they have no one who can conduct a decent interview. So I will contribute from here in Bellingham.

    As a side note, I know you and Steve Scher had a falling out, but I have to say your weather segments with Steve were the best ever - that is one place KPLU hasn't been able to catch up with KUOW - Steve and you had synergy!

    Now come on all you rich Seattelites - let's get the $100,000 donations rolling!

  4. Thanks Cliff, I've also pledged 100 and hoping to see the word spread. Your blog helps.

  5. It will happen! Over time. I notice donation total is now over $900,000. I started with a small $250 donation, and committed to at last $250 per month. I intend to donate more as soon as I am able. Small amounts every week (or month) until we hit the goal!

    I look forward to and enjoy your weather blog. What's happening in the skies overhead is a really big deal for those of us who live in more rural areas.

  6. While it would be great to keep the jazz on KPLU intact - I've listened to it more during this controversy than previously, and it seems excellent, the KUOW bashing may be counterproductive.

    Calling KUOW "failing", showing edited trends (why does election coverage warrant discarding data points?), citing comments from angry KPLU listeners offered during an unexpected take-over attempt all tend to make the arguments seem partisan.

    Best would be to keep both stations serving the public as well as possible.

  7. Some employers will match employee donations; make sure to ask. An appeal to schools would be worthwhile; think especially of the middle and high schools with journalism and/or jazz programs. Motivated kids are great fund-raisers. Maybe offer volunteer internships to some high school students interested in fund-raising for the cause. And I bet you could get at least one of the area's great high school jazz bands around here to do a benefit concert. That would do more than bring in dollars; it'd also raise awareness. Focus on what KPLU is, not what KUOW isn't. Folk are getting enough of negative campain ads in the presidential race.

  8. I’d prefer KUOW buy KPLU so I can hear jazz all day. If I want to listen to NPR and political blather, I can tune to KUOW.


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

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