There was no cheering on the air March 1 during KUNC-FM’s 3:04 p.m.
local news report on the pending transfer of the station’s license.
Not that there wasn’t major jubilation off-air among the staff and the
Friends group of the Greeley, Colo., station, whose 20-day campaign to retain
local control of KUNC generated more than $2 million in pledges from some
Earlier that day, the University of Northern Colorado had accepted the
Friends’ $2 million bid for the license over Colorado Public Radio’s $2.6
million offer. But however exhilarating the outcome for an exhausted staff,
manager Neil Best insisted that KUNC not break its on-air standards, even
in a moment of triumph.
“The station is saying in its call letters, ‘Community radio for northern
Colorado,’ and that’s a sweet sound to hear,” says Pat Thomas, secretary
of the Friends of KUNC. The $1.4 million raised in cash, and another $600,000
in solid pledges, “says what an incredible station our staff is producing,
for people to give that kind of money.”
It wouldn’t have happened if KUNC hadn’t created “such a great radio station
that no one could bear the thought of it being silenced,” she added.
The campaign for KUNC became a symbolic battle against “the homogenization
of America that we see,” said Best. Local restaurants go out of business
due to competition from big chains, newspapers such as the Rocky Mountain
News and Denver Post consolidate, and there’s “not a damn thing”
people can to do about it.
“This became a symbol,” said Best, “a chance to say something about Time-Warner
and AOL and all those mergers out there.”
The Friends guaranteed to pay $510,000 for a “quasi-endowment” held for
KUNC by the university foundation, and this proposal gave their bid an edge
over CPR’s. The university recognized that if CPR acquired the endowment
of about $600,000 along with the station, many of those who had donated
the funds would demand their money back.
“When we did an analysis of how the endowment would be treated, and the
likelihood of funds remaining, that’s what tilted the balance in favor of
the Friends,” said Kay Norton, v.p. of university affairs. Friends of KUNC
also offered to pay interest to the university on its $2 million escrow
account while the FCC considers the license transfer.
“The Friends were able to raise a phenomenal amount of money in a short
period of time so that they could make a competitive offer, and that was
very impressive,” commented Norton. “There were two competitive proposals
to maintain a public radio voice in Northern Colorado, but the Friends really
had the edge.”
The university originally negotiated only with Denver-based CPR–notably,
five of its seven voting trustees are Denver-area residents. But when listeners
swiftly and vociferously objected to the sale, the trustees postponed acting
on CPR’s offer, and KUNC’s Friends group began its campaign. The Denver-based
network wanted to put a news/information schedule on KUNC, but the station’s
fans wanted to keep its “diverse music” format. The university gave KUNC
supporters only until Feb. 28 to make a competing bid.
Educational Media Foundation, owner of the K-LOVE Christian radio network,
also considered joining the bidding process. K-LOVE’s initial inquiry raised
the stakes of the bidding process, and prompted CPR to raise its first offer
of $1.9 million to $2.6 million.
Based on its previous experience vying for frequencies against K-LOVE,
CPR’s board saw the religious broadcaster as a more threatening challenger
for KUNC’s license, said Max Wycisk, CPR president. If K-LOVE won the license,
the frequency would be lost to public radio. CPR’s board decided to raise
its bid to $2.6 million.
“The board suspected that the Friends group was out of their territory
financially,” explained Wycisk, and “saw the threat as completely coming
from the religious broadcaster.”
But at the end of the business day on Feb. 28, K-LOVE informed the university
that it would not bid. As a 100,000-watt station, KUNC is a “premiere facility,”
commented Joe Miller, K-LOVE finance director, but also the main NPR station
serving the region. “That being the case, we felt the community pressure
on a proposed sale to someone who would discontinue NPR programming was
“My reaction and that of the board was relief that license remained within
public radio–and enormous congratulations to the Friends group for raising
such a huge amount of money in short period of time,” said Wycisk. “They
did a great job.”