May 03, 2016

The KPLU Miracle

In a world where the news is often depressing (global warming, presidential discord, and constant conflict), it is refreshing to have a story that is so uplifting and encouraging that it brings a smile to your face thinking about it.

The saving of KPLU is just such a story.

Last November, it appeared that the Puget Sound region's favorite jazz, blues, local and NPR news public radio station (KPLU) would be lost.  Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) had made a secret deal with the UW and its public radio station (KUOW) to sell KPLU for 7 million dollars.  The KPLU staff would be fired and it award-winning local news team would lose their jobs.   KUOW would get the KPLU transmitters and a monopoly on local pledge money.

KPLU and the Phoenix Have a Lot in Common

It seemed inevitable:  the loss of ANOTHER news outlet.  The ending of probably the best jazz station in the country.  The loss of valued local content to a corporate-style competitor more interested in its bottom line than serving the public.

But then something unexpected happened.  Folks said no.  Spontaneous protests occurred at PLU.  Massive letter and email writing campaigns began.  Protest websites were established and social media (twitter, Facebook) filled with the comments of angry KPLU listeners.

And it worked.  The UW and PLU decided to give the community a chance to save their radio station--but they had to do it quickly or the sale would go through.  The community would have to raise seven million dollars in six months.

The reaction of the Northwest public radio audience has been extraordinary.  As of today (May 3), KPLU (actually Friends of  88.5) have raised a bit more than 5 MILLION DOLLARS from over 16,000 listeners.  Just amazing.     If the donations continue at this rate, the necessary funds will be collected before the June 30th deadline.

Just to give you an idea of the response, today is GiveBig donation day in which the Seattle Foundation will extend donations given to participating organizations.  Below is the list for major groups.  Friends of 88.5 is NUMBER ONE with over $ 700,000 in contributions from 3368 individual contributors.  In comparison, the problematic KUOW organization (who seem to have too much free cash available for taking over competitors) had only 264 contributions.  People know.

But the contributions are only one part of the story.  All through the region groups are holding SaveKPLU fundraisers:  in restaurants, music venues, lecture halls, and parties in private homes.  In a few weeks, there will be a gathering at the Museum of Flight with a real astronaut.    It is clear that thousands upon thousands of local folks value KPLU and this crucible of fundraising is building a unique and enduring relationship between listeners and their radio station.  

A connection is being forged that will make KPLU stronger. Folks are willing to make pledges, participate in fund raisers, comment on social media, and encourage their friends.  All  to prevent the loss of a valued news outlet, unique musical programming,  personable on-air staff, and popular community outreach efforts that are a signature of KPLU.
But some KPLU supporters are worried, concerned that PLU will find a way to make a deal with KUOW and the UW.   KUOW clearly is still hungry for KPLU's transmitters, and is doing what it can to undermine KPLU  (like starting a competitor jazz outlet called PlanetJazz).  But can you imagine what the public reaction would be if KPLU raises the 7 million from tens of thousands of  contributors and PLU does not let the community purchase the station?    The reaction would be immense and intense.   PLU and KUOW would be isolated and marginalized.  And they know it.   I also believe that the UW administration wants to do the right thing and would prefer if a community solution succeeds.

We are now in the home stretch to save KPLU.   But as in any race, good progress in the beginning is meaningless if you don't reach the finish line.   So please, help keep the momentum going by contributing to saving KPLU: .

Or go to one of the many SaveKPLU events listed on the above web site.   There is nearly one every day at locations around around the area.

The Phoenix is rising out of the ashes.


  1. I was really happy to give Save KPLU $50 today, in your honor (and even begged them to have you on every Tuesday, also!) The Microsoft Alumni Association doubled member contributions today, a special one-time deal, so if I understand things correctly, the Give Big campaign will either net KPLU $150 or even $200 from my $50! Winning!

    It feels like this could only happen here. I have a friend in San Francisco who lost his newsroom job at the public radio station when they cut their entire news staff a few weeks ago. I'm really glad we're able to raise the money to save our station!

    I honestly don't even care about the jazz... I'm in it 100% for the local news reporting, Bird Talk, and your weather segments. Thanks for continuing to spread the good word.

  2. Is it the physical transmitters that KUOW wants, or the frequency license? I mean, 88.5 is in the Non-Commercial Educational reserved band, while 94.9 is not, so presumably KUOW could buy PLU's 88.5 license and then come out money ahead by selling 94.9 to a commercial station, much like KRAB did back in the 1980s.

  3. The total giving to the Give Big campaign is now over $1,170,000 (as of 14:30 Wednesday). That won't be matched dollar for dollar, but it probably will be stretched by 8-10%. Even at the low end, it's over $90,000 closer to the finish goal line.

  4. May 4, 7:20 pm...

    Friends of 88-5 FM 6,426 gifts $1,254,544

    I think this puts the total at about 5.5 million... but we shouldn't be complacent about that last $1.5 million. KUOW is not going to cut us a break if we miss it by a little bit.

    Oh, and what have they raised during GiveBIG?
    KUOW Puget Sound Public Radio 967 gifts $111,529

    The people have spoken. I hope the greedy folks at KUOW have gotten the message.

  5. I hope KPLU is saved, and I hope that it causes a giant re-think at KUOW about how they are serving the community. It's time for the KUOW station manager and program director to go. It's very sad to think how effectively they have dismantled what used to be a great, (fairly) community focused station.

  6. don't like jazz
    But made a contribution in memory of my Sheltie dogie Robbie
    that I unexpectedly and too early lost this week

  7. I, too, could take jazz or leave it alone. But an independent newsroom is priceless.

  8. Actually KPLU is a pretty sorry jazz station, more in the "easy listening" vein. I stopped donating back in the 90s when one of their DJs (who is still there) compared Ornette Coleman, who they never played, to The Dead Kennedys.


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