KING-FM: a different tune?

The classical music station's owners are pondering possible changes. For now: stay tuned.
The classical music station's owners are pondering possible changes. For now: stay tuned.

The nonprofit board that oversees Seattle'ꀙs struggling classical music station KING-FM met last Thursday as part of continuing efforts to address revenue shortfalls that led to layoffs in September. Apparently, no verdicts yet, despite months of wrestling with the issues.

KING-FM was gifted to a non-profit organization by the Bullitt family 15 years ago, with annual proceeds to be distributed evenly to ArtsFund, for distribution to smaller musical groups, Seattle Opera, and Seattle Symphony. While lucrative in the past, this arrangement now faces a combination of factors — including the recession, changes in traditional media, and decisions made by station management — that has caused hard times for the station. The result has been staff layoffs, and for the first time no funds will be distributed to the three musical groups next year.

Reached by Crosscut via email after last week's board meeting, KING-FM board chair Chris Bayley said that the board had not taken any specific action. 'ꀜThe meeting this week was one of a series we have had [for] strategic planning,'ꀝ Bayley wrote. When questioned specifically about the possibility of additional layoffs, Bayley said that 'ꀜno further staffing reductions are planned.'ꀝ

It'ꀙs unclear what specific options KING-FM has been weighing in the two months since the station'ꀙs troubles were first revealed. Also unknown is to what degree station management has consulted with KING-FM'ꀙs listeners, advertisers, and other stakeholders as part of the station'ꀙs strategic planning. I asked Bayley about listener and other community concerns for the station. He wrote, 'ꀜI assure you that the board is hard at work on a long term plan which will assure the robust long term health of KING-FM as a classical music broadcaster and important part of the Seattle arts community.'ꀝ Bayley added that KING-FM 'ꀜshould be able to talk more about our plan by mid-2010.'ꀝ

Possible options for KING-FM include converting the station to a membership- and underwriting-based organization (like KUOW or KPLU but probably with only NPR headline service rather than full NPR programming) and/or jettisoning some or much of its local programming and instead broadcasting a satellite-distributed classical music service. The station has also moved aggressively into web-casting.

I sent questions to executives of ArtsFund, Seattle Opera, and the Seattle Symphony earlier this month asking about their willingness to give up annual dividends if that'ꀙs what it would take for KING-FM to survive. No replies so far.


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