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'Save KPLU' drive hits $7M goal, but more hurdles ahead

KUOW Photo/Gil Aegerter

A group hoping to buy the public radio station KPLU from Pacific Lutheran University announced Thursday that it’s raised the money to do so.

General manager Joey Cohn delivered the news on-air with supporters cheering in the background. Reaching the $7 million goal paves the way for the group Friends of 88.5 FM to enter negotiations with PLU. If they reach a sale agreement, the previous offer from KUOW will be terminated.

It’s been over six months since KUOW and the University of Washington announced plans to acquire the news and jazz station KPLU. After a community outcry over the deal, UW and PLU agreed that a community group should have the chance to make a competing offer.  

Now that group, Friends of 88.5 FM, said it has raised enough money to match KUOW’s offer: $7 million  in cash, plus $1 million in underwriting.

Cohn said they would be celebrating Thursday. “We’re amazed, we’re humbled, we’re surprised – to be honest with you –  about the outpouring from the community,” he said.

Cohn credited community members with organizing dozens of fundraisers, and said the Seattle Foundation’s Give Big campaign in early May put the effort over the top. “We raised almost $1.5 million  through Give Big and that was a big turning point in the campaign,” he said.

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

But there are more steps in the process.

Cohn said Friends of 88.5 FM and PLU are working out details of a nondisclosure agreement, which paves the way to negotiate a purchase agreement.

PLU vice president Donna Gibbs offered a “hearty congratulations” to the group on reaching its fundraising goal.

“The deadline for the community group to have both raised the funds and entered into a signed agreement with us is June 30, so it appears the community group is well on their way to reaching that timeframe,” she said.

The final price the community group would pay for KPLU remains somewhat in doubt.

Cohn said transferring the station is cheaper for PLU than dismantling it, so a $6 million offer should be valid. That’s what Friends outlined in a letter of intent already submitted to PLU. In that case Cohn said the group could put the extra $1 million toward running the radio station.

Gibbs disagreed, saying that would not meet the terms of their agreement with the UW to allow this competing offer. 

“We’re contractually bound with the UW to accept nothing less than $7 million. So that’s a non-starter,” she said.

Norm Arkans is a spokesperson for the University of Washington and a member of the KUOW board. UW holds KUOW’s license.

Arkans said defining what constitutes “an equivalent offer” from the buyers is PLU’s call, not the UW’s. He said if PLU and the community group reach an agreement, the UW will wish them well.    

“As things developed, our view was it really didn’t matter whether it was us or Friends of KPLU as long as it remained in the in the public broadcasting arena,” he said. “You’ve got a group that’s obviously raised the money. Now they need to go the next step and conclude the agreement, and you have a community-based radio station. And we think that’s great.”

Arkans said if he could rewind and do it over again, he would have had community voices involved from the beginning.

The Federal Communications Commission will also have to sign off on a purchase.

And the community group notes that if sold, KPLU will take on new call letters: “This detail will be part of the purchase agreement with PLU,” the group says on its website, adding that listeners will be able to make suggestions for what the new call letters should be.

Year started with KUOW: 2005