Emails give peek into behind-the-scenes discussions of KPLU sale

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The Seattle Times has dug into internal emails that reveal how officials and station leaders worked to conceal the University of Washington’s plans to acquire KPLU-FM until the deal was approved Nov. 12.

In emails acquired by the newspaper, Caryn Mathes, g.m. of the university’s KUOW, and UW communications exec Norm Arkans discuss how a meeting agenda could mention a vote on the sale without drawing attention to the item. Arkans proposed titling it “KUOW License Assignment and Acquisition.”

And other emails focused on how Pacific Lutheran University, KPLU’s licensee, would describe to the public how the deal came about. PLU ended up saying in a statement, and maintains, that the stations have explored “a merger” for years. But Arkans told the Times that he encouraged PLU to be straightforward about the fact that it approached UW.

An attorney and KPLU supporter tells the Times that the handling of the regents’ vote amounts to “a flagrant violation of the open meetings law.” KUOW’s Mathes, however, says that UW “followed the letter of the law on notifications.”

“There’s a lot of fear and misinformation and people bending the arc of information that’s out there to their own perceptions and sensibilities,” Mathes told the Times. “I think it’s entirely appropriate to have such negotiations in private.”

Another internal email obtained by Current detailed KUOW’s skepticism about the value of Jazz24, a jazz stream operated by KPLU. KUOW is currently developing its own jazz stream and broadcast format.

KPLU is aiming to raise $7 million by June 30 to buy its independence from PLU and avert the sale to KUOW. It has so far raised $5.9 million from more than 21,000 donations.

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