Community group cites value of reduced staff costs in bid for KPLU

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A community group aiming to buy KPLU-FM in Tacoma, Wash., from licensee Pacific Lutheran University submitted a letter of intent Tuesday proposing to lower the station’s sale price by $1 million.

Friends of 88.5 FM has been trying to raise $7 million by June 30 to match an offer from the University of Washington, licensee of KUOW in Seattle, to buy KPLU’s license. However, if Pacific Lutheran University agreed to terms proposed in the letter of intent, Friends of 88.5 FM would need to raise only $6 million. It would also contribute $1 million worth of underwriting and on-air recognition to the university over a 10-year period.

Stephen Tan, former chair of KPLU’s advisory council and chair of the governing board of Friends of 88.5 FM, told Current that despite the reduced offer, the deal is “substantially similar” to the university’s agreement with the University of Washington. If PLU sold the station to the University of Washington, it would have to pay about $1 million in severance and unemployment benefits to KPLU employees who would lose their jobs, according to Tan. Taking the Friends of 88.5 FM offer would save PLU those costs, allowing for the reduced sale price, he said.

“We’re saving them over $1 million, so we’re asking for a $1 million reduction in the cash to be paid,” Tan said.

Though the community group has yet to raise the needed amount, it sent the letter of intent because the two parties must reach a deal by June 30, Tan said.

“In order to be able to do that by June 30, of course, is going to require negotiations over certain items,” he said. “We needed to kick that off by presenting a proposal that was substantially similar to what the University of Washington has agreed to pay.”

The community group’s proposal would retain the station’s 16 news staffers and 12 music personnel, as well as Jazz24, the station’s streaming jazz service. The group also proposed that KPLU continue to operate from its headquarters, the Martin J. Neeb Center, on the PLU campus rent-free, Tan said.

“Our proposal is that since we are saving PLU significant amounts of money by assuming certain contractual and lease obligations, including a studio in Seattle, that we be allowed to stay in the Neeb Center rent-free,” Tan said. “The cost savings for the Seattle space that we’re relieving PLU from having to pay for is over half a million dollars.”

Tan said he had not received a response from the university. PLU has not responded to Current’s request for comment.

“I’m hoping they come back and they say this is substantially similar to the transaction we negotiated with the University of Washington, because it is substantially similar,” Tan said. “And that we can then start negotiating on the finer points of the transaction,” such as equipment the group would like to retain, he said.

The community group is still fundraising as if it needs to raise $7 million by June 30. The sale to KUOW was announced in November, but after listeners protested the deal, the universities signed a modified purchase agreement in February giving the community group time to come up with the money to buy the station.

The Save KPLU campaign has so far raised more than $4.4 million from more than 13,000 donations.

Read the letter of intent:



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Clarification: The headline of this story was revised to reflect the equivalent value that Friends of 88.5 FM assigned to reduced staffing costs included in its bid.