Campaign To Save KPLU Launches; Needs At Least $7M In 6 Months | KUOW News and Information

Campaign To Save KPLU Launches; Needs At Least $7M In 6 Months

Jan 11, 2016

A campaign to save public radio station KPLU got under way on Monday.

Fans of KPLU now have until June 30 to raise at least $7 million.

KPLU reporter Ashley Gross called it "the mother of all pledge drives."

While public radio pledge drives often say it's listener support that keeps stations on the air, usually the risk of a station disappearing is hypothetical.

This time, KPLU has its back against the wall. If the six-month fund drive fails, the KPLU brand and newsroom will be eliminated in short order.

Pending FCC approval, 88.5 FM would be turned into an all jazz and blues station run by KUOW.

The proposed sale to KUOW was revealed to the public in November. It generated enough backlash that the two organizations behind it--Pacific Lutheran University and the University of Washington--offered to let the community form a nonprofit group to try to save KPLU instead.

"The community clearly spoke," Pacific Lutheran University spokesperson Donna Gibbs said. "We fully support the UW's decision to open this up to a community buyer."

On Monday morning, KPLU listeners started hearing brief fundraising announcements, unlike the usual pledge drive.

"If successful, this station will become an independent, community nonprofit and will continue to provide in-depth news for all of Puget Sound, hand-picked music, as well as support of local jazz education," one announcement read.

KPLU general manager Joey Cohn said the FCC limits how much fundraising a public radio station can do on air for an outside entity—the newly formed nonprofit that hopes to buy the station—so this effort won't interrupt KPLU's news and jazz programming the way an ordinary pledge drive would. Cohn said he's grateful that Pacific Lutheran University is letting the station raise money for an outside entity. 

"They've allowed us to use air time to promote the campaign. They've allowed me to lead the campaign," Cohn said. "It's an unusual situation, but PLU is very supportive and we're appreciative of that."

KPLU said if the drive succeeds, it would preserve KPLU's newsroom and the jobs of the people who work there.

Doing so would buck the trends of journalists losing jobs in the Puget Sound region. In December, both the Seattle Weekly and the Seattle Times announced plans to slash the size of their newsrooms.

KUOW General Manager Caryn Mathes said lawyers are still reviewing thousands of pages of documents before finalizing an agreement. Under the proposed deal, UW would purchase KPLU for $7 million in cash and $1 million in underwriting credits, unless a community group matches UW's offer.

"We're looking at every lease, every contract, just combing through everything. It's something any buyer should do, and that takes time."

Mathes said she did not see KPLU possibly going to another buyer as a setback for KUOW.

"We wanted to see the 88.5 family of frequencies preserved for public radio," Mathes said. "If that's not needed, that's fine, and on we go."


KUOW has hired an independent editor to oversee coverage of this story.

This story was changed to clarify details of the agreement between UW and PLU. (1:45 p.m., 1/12/16)