KPLU advisory board submits its appeal to PLU

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Still angered by Pacific Lutheran University’s decision to sell it’s public radio station to the University of Washington, the station’s listeners want time to raise money for a possible community buy-out. KPLU’s community advisory committee voted last week to appeal directly to PLU to hold off completion of the deal.

PLU, meanwhile, has so far stuck to its guns that this is the right decision, issuing a statement to its community last Tuesday.

In a letter sent to Crosscut today, committee member Stephen Tan lambasts the decision and, on behalf of the entire advisory committee, asks PLU President Thomas Krise to reconsider:

For a public radio station, there can be no policy decision more major than one to transfer its license to and effectively fold its operations into those of another licensee. As such, we are disappointed that the University did not see fit to alert the Council of its interest in selling KPLU, to inform it prior to negotiations with the University of Washington, to consult it during negotiations over the terms of a sale, or to advise it of the sale before the proposed transaction was announced to the public.

KPLU does not have a governing body independent of PLU and, as a private institution, PLU had no obligation to consider competing offers or even notify KPLU of its intentions to sell the station. The station’s community advisory committee, a group made up mostly of listeners who provide feedback on content, likewise does not hold authority outside of making recommendations.

The boards of regents at PLU and the University of Washington, which holds KUOW’s license, have already voted to approve the deal. So Tan’s letter, sent Monday, is really just a Hail Mary. But his letter captures the sentiment of many KPLU listeners who were disappointed by the announcement .

We have been told that an effective merger of these stations will strengthen KUOW’s all-news programming, allow for 24-hour jazz service at 88.5, and promote 'synergies' that will allow both stations to operate more efficiently.

These assurances give us little comfort. First, they ignore the benefit of an independent, alternative source of public radio news and public affairs reporting...We reject the analogy the University attempts to draw between this proposed sale and the City of Seattle’s survival of the demise in 2009 of its second independent daily newspaper, particularly because the University’s suggestion that the online Seattle P-I is now a “vibrant” media resource cannot be taken seriously.

Tan's mention of the "vibrant" is in reference to something PLU's VP of marketing and communication told Crosscut.

Second, these assurances overlook the around-the-clock jazz service already available via KPLU’s streaming service, Jazz 24. ...

Third, these assurances reveal a failure to understand that many KPLU listeners choose this station because they appreciate the balance of news and music KPLU offers and the quality of news, public affairs, and music programming that a mixed format helps facilitate.

Because KPLU's hands are tied when it comes to taking action outside of recommendations, the crux of Tan's appeal is necessarily an emotional one:

We understand that the University, as a private institution, has no such civic obligation. We appeal to you, however, to recognize that the University is the custodian of what is essentially a public resource and community asset, and to accept the ethical responsibilities to the public that are intrinsic to that asset.

A decision to sell KPLU to the University of Washington would cause the permanent loss of a cherished institution. If the University truly wishes to sell KPLU, we urge it to consider the possibility of community ownership or some other means to preserve the station’s status as an independent public radio affiliate. Because no financial urgency is driving the University to sell, we ask that any further action on the proposed sale be deferred for a period sufficient to allow for any such alternatives to be explored and adequately considered. Should the University choose this course, the Council stands at your service to aid you in any way it can.

So far, reaction to the sale of KPLU has been almost exclusively negative. Tan's letter is hoping to build off this momentum. PLU is unlikely to hold on to the station; the university has clearly decided to put its efforts elsewhere. But, for Tan and the listeners of KPLU, the best case scenario would be to be given the chance to raise enough from its audience to become an independent radio station.

Considering PLU's statement, however, the appeal is a long shot. From President Krise:

This is a strategic decision based on careful analysis of the future of radio and a concern about how best to sustain public media in the region for as long as possible. The reality is that there is a finite audience that is willing to fund public radio in the greater Puget Sound region, and right now each station operating independently is not fully engaging, and rather competing for, that audience.  We think it only makes sense for the two stations to pursue a shared vision for developing and funding content.

Go here to read Tan's full letter.

Visit here for Krise's statement last week.

PLU representatives did not immediately respond for comment on the community advisory committee's letter.


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About the Authors & Contributors

David Kroman

David Kroman

David Kroman is formerly a reporter at Crosscut, where he covered city politics.