Buyer still must arrange financing
Local offer for Salt Lake station approved by seller in Park City
Wasatch Public Media, the new Utah nonprofit bidding to take over Salt Lake City’s KCPW-FM, has signed a letter of intent to purchase the station for $2.4 million.
The seller, Community Wireless of Park City, Utah, also unloaded a sister station serving Salt Lake, 50,000-watt KCPW-AM, that had been a financial drain and was unwanted by Wasatch. It will be sold to Immaculate Heart Radio Educational Broadcasting, a Catholic-owned network, for $1.3 million.
The board of Community Wireless voted unanimously March 25  to give Wasatch Public Media 60 days to come up with financing to seal the deal, according to Joe Wrona, an attorney and board member who negotiated the sale terms.
“Wasatch Public Media was formed strictly for the purpose of acquiring KCPW-FM, and we recognize they’re going to need six weeks or so to arrange their financing,” Wrona said. A local management agreement for Wasatch Public Media to take over KCPW operations later this month is under discussion.
When Community Wireless announced its intention to sell both KCPW-FM and AM in February, it endorsed a plan for then-KCPW manager Ed Sweeney to organize local supporters around a bid to continue operating KCPW-FM as an NPR news station (story, March 3). After Sweeney founded Wasatch Public Media in March, KCPW supporters rallied and wrote letters on behalf of the local bid.
Meanwhile, Community Wireless President Blair Feulner pressed Sweeney to purchase the FM and AM stations as a $3.7 million package. He also asked Utah Public Radio manager Cathy Ives to bid $3.8 million for the pair (story, March 24). But the Community Wireless governing board opted to decouple the stations.
“I want to compliment the Community Wireless board for standing up and making tough decisions when management was not really supportive of the concept,” Sweeney said.
Prior to the letter-writing campaign by KCPW supporters, the Community Wireless board “didn’t have a way of gauging the level of passion that listeners hold for that station,” Wrona said. “It had an impact on the board.” The board also acted “out of respect for the current staff.”
Community Wireless bought the AM station for $1.2 million in 2003 and sold $2.7 million in public revenue bonds to finance the purchase and technical upgrades. The idea was to extend the FM station’s reach far beyond Salt Lake City, but the AM outlet never generated the income required to cover the $30,000 monthly cost of its operations and debt service, according to Sweeney.
“The two transactions together will allow Community Wireless to substantially recover from the debt it incurred in acquiring and operating the Salt Lake stations,” Wrona said.
There’s a noncommercial radio bidding war going on in Utah for KCPW-FM and -AM, the Salt Lake City duo put up for sale last month by its licensee, Community Wireless of Park City, Utah (story, March 3). Two buyers are in the running; a third may jump in.
Educational Media Foundation, the California-based religious broadcaster that owns the national K-Love radio network, bid $3.7 million for both KCPW stations with plans to sell the AM to a Catholic group, Immaculate Heart Radio Educational Broadcasting, according to a source familiar with the deal. EMF gave KCPW’s owner until March 10 to respond to its offer, and it’s unclear whether it still stands. An EMF spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Wasatch Public Media, a Utah nonprofit established by former KCPW manager Ed Sweeney to purchase the station and continue operating it as an independent NPR News station, is trying to match EMF’s offer. The owner rejected Wasatch’s initial bid of $2.4 million for the FM station. Sweeney said last week he was negotiating with the owner to buy KCPW-FM and -AM for $3.7 million.
Wasatch doesn't really want the AM station, Sweeney said, "but it has to be part of the deal.” He hopes to find another buyer for the AM.
Meanwhile, supporters of Sweeney’s bid staged a protest at KCPW against the licensee’s lack of transparency in handling the sale. “In a moral sense or in a fair game sense, we who pledged on pledge drives and gave money to building the station deserve a chance to raise the money to buy it,” said philanthropist Steve Denkers, quoted in the Deseret Morning News. Denker’s family foundation has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to KCPW.
Utah Public Radio at Utah State University in Logan is still weighing whether to enter a bid, according to Cathy Ives, station manager. KCPW’s licensee “is encouraging us to make an offer,” she said. “They’re adamant about not wanting to split the AM and the FM stations, but we’re not at all interested in the AM.” During phone conversations March 20, licensee chief Blair Feulner asked for a bid of $3.8 million, Ives said.
Community Wireless purchased the license to broadcast at 50,000 watts on 1010 AM in 2003 with ambitions of reaching beyond Salt Lake City. But the station has failed to attract an audience sizable enough to cover its hefty costs. Monthly debt service and operational expenses for KCPW-AM total $30,000, according to Sweeney. “We don’t raise that kind of money.” A spokesman for Community Wireless declined to comment.
March 24 story edited slightly after print publication.
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