Community group reaches deal on KPLU independence

Print More

A group that raised $7 million in five months to turn KPLU in Tacoma, Wash., into a community licensee reached an official deal with the station’s owner Tuesday.

Friends of 88.5, the community group behind the Save KPLU campaign, struck the deal with Pacific Lutheran University about a month after raising the necessary funds.

As part of the deal, the group will retain all KPLU employees, who were not guaranteed jobs when PLU originally planned to sell the station to the University of Washington. The station will also continue to broadcast from its current headquarters, the Martin J. Neeb Center on the PLU campus, rent-free through June 2019. By that date, the station plans to be in new headquarters in Tacoma but will continue to use its Seattle-based offices and studios, according to Joey Cohn, KPLU’s general manager. It will also own all KPLU transmitters and translators.

Friends of 88.5 previously asked for a lower selling price, arguing that PLU would save money in staffing costs by selling to the group instead of to the University of Washington, which also sought to buy KPLU. But the final sale costs remained at $7 million in cash plus $1 million of in-kind underwriting announcements for PLU over 10 years.

Even after the fundraising campaign ended, the group brought in another $1 million in contributions, bringing the total amount raised since January to $8 million, Cohn said. That additional money will go toward expenses from the campaign and will help the station build a reserve fund to cover operating expenses when it becomes independent.

The deal is pending FCC approval, but the group said it hopes to take control of the station sometime this fall.

In an unprecedented fundraising campaign in public media, Friends of 88.5 raised $7 million in five months, a month earlier than their deadline, from more than 18,000 donors. PLU originally planned to sell the station to UW, the licensee of KUOW in Seattle. But after a community outcry over the deal, the universities decided to allow Friends of 88.5 to attempt to match UW’s purchase price in just six months.

“We are impressed by the fundraising effort undertaken by the Friends of 88.5 FM,” said PLU President Thomas W. Krise in a press release. “We thank the University of Washington for gracefully agreeing to step aside and let KPLU continue to serve its listeners with the news and jazz programming they have come to rely upon. We wish the community group well as they continue to serve and celebrate the greater Puget Sound area.”