Seattle news/talk station KUOW is reevaluating its plans for an FM signal it’s been leasing in Tacoma, Wash., after a feasibility study revealed that prospective donors weren’t inclined to back a capital campaign to buy the station.
KUOW began broadcasting its alternative news stream three years ago on KXOT, the 91.7 FM frequency held by Boulder-based Public Radio Capital. Under its five-year operating agreement, the Seattle outlet has until next July to exercise its option to buy the channel.
The study found foundation heads and other potential backers were confused about the proposed signal purchase, according to Wayne Roth, g.m. “It could be that we did not make the case to their satisfaction or that the case can’t be made,” he said. “The economic climate was also a big factor.”
The board of KUOW Puget Sound Public Radio will consider other options to finance the purchase during a meeting this weekend and may make a decision on how to move forward, Roth said.
PRC stepped in to buy the signal six years ago from Bates Technical College to keep it available for public radio after the college dropped its radio training program, according to Managing Director Marc Hand. PRC spent $5 million to buy the signal, which got new call letters—KXOT—and a transmission upgrade that boosted its potential audience to 2.7 million, including part but not all of the Seattle market.
KEXP, Seattle’s contemporary music station, used the Tacoma signal to extend its reach for a couple of years before dropping the contract.
Then KUOW used the signal to carry an alternative news schedule, including nationally distributed pubradio fare and international news programs that KUOW assembled for an HD Radio multicast channel. With KUOW and KXOT to choose from, Tacoma listeners can hear “any good program” that’s produced for public radio, Roth said, including programs from the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and Deutsche Welle, and a mix of Public Radio Exchange’s independently produced fare.
But KUOW hasn’t had enough money to promote the service, and has been disappointed by the audience response to it, Roth said. “If we had a significant audience for it, the path would be clear.”
Prospective donors’ confusion about the proposed capital campaign is not unusual, according to Hand, who said other stations have drawn similar conclusions from feasibility studies. “The idea of buying a station is a harder concept for a capital campaign.”
In addition to weighing other financing options for the proposed KXOT purchase, Roth is considering whether to mount a different fundraising appeal. Individual donors may be willing to provide funding for a marketing plan promoting KXOT, he said. Pubradio supporters in Tacoma fear losing KXOT to a non-public radio operator.
“We are determined not to let that happen,” Roth said.
Web page posted July 13, 2009
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