KPLU advisory board asks licensee to reconsider sale

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The advisory board for KPLU in Tacoma, Wash., has officially opposed the sale of the station by licensee Pacific Lutheran University to Seattle’s KUOW in a letter sent to the school’s president and board of regents Monday.

In a four-page letter, Stephen Tan, chair of the community advisory council, called the sale “fundamentally misguided” and asked the school to stop negotiations with the University of Washington, KUOW’s licensee, and “consider other options.”

“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,” Tan wrote. “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.”

PLU announced the $8 million sale to the University of Washington Nov. 12. If approved by the FCC, the acquisition would expand KUOW to an 11-frequency network, with two separate formats of news and jazz.

The deal came as a shock to KPLU’s staff, advisory board and community supporters. The station’s advisory board convened a meeting Nov. 23 where community members shared their frustration with the sale. The advisory board voted unanimously to oppose the sale, though it has no legal authority to change the decision.

In the letter, Tan lamented that the university did not alert the advisory board of the sale and questioned why the university would sell. “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 [KPLU’s signal], and promote ‘synergies’ that will allow both stations to operate more efficiently,” Tan wrote. “These assurances give us little comfort.”

Tan argued that competition between the stations has been beneficial and that listeners appreciate KPLU’s current format of news and music. He also pointed out that KPLU already offers a full-time jazz service as a web stream.

Questioning PLU’s citing of declining radio audiences as a reason for selling, Tan said that KPLU’s online and broadcast audience of 430,000 is up from 360,000 in 2012. And he said that the university spends just $30,000 a year on the station, amounting to less than 1 percent of the station’s budget.

Read the full letter below.

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