As KPLU seeks survival, KUOW makes plans for acquisition

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While management of KPLU-FM in Tacoma, Wash., works to raise $7 million in six months to become an independent community licensee, Seattle’s KUOW is making plans in case the effort fails.

KUOW’s licensee, the University of Washington, and Pacific Lutheran University, which operates KPLU, agreed to a deal in November for UW to acquire KPLU. An outcry from the community prompted the schools to agree to give KPLU a chance at buying its independence. KPLU has raised over $400,000 as of Friday morning.

But in the meantime, KUOW is moving forward with its plans to acquire KPLU if the fundraising campaign falls short. In a letter sent Wednesday to KUOW’s board of directors, General Manager Caryn laid out preliminary plans for KPLU if it does become part of KUOW.

Among the plans, Mathes said KUOW will turn three of KPLU’s signals into all-jazz formats, including the main signal, 88.5 FM, which broadcasts throughout Seattle and the surrounding region. KPLU now airs a mix of news and jazz. Here’s a map of the formats for each signal KUOW hopes to acquire.

KUOW has contracted Steve Williams, program director at jazz station WBGO in Newark, N.J., to design the music format.

As for the resulting news programming, Mathes added a spreadsheet to the letter showing overlapping coverage of news beats and programs between the two stations. KUOW would consider adding new beats to its coverage, including “issues of the middle class,” “tech startup culture” and “enhanced election coverage.”

“I appreciate the Board’s warm initial reception to my outline for newsroom staffing that would allow for a net gain over coverage currently presented individually by KUOW and KPLU,” Mathes said. She said she plans to submit a budget including new positions for four news staffers, five music staffers and three administrative jobs. KUOW is also in the process of hiring three additional news staffers.

Mathes added that KUOW has yet to determine which of the national news/talk shows airing on KPLU would join KUOW’s schedule. KUOW does plan to add Fresh Air at 7 p.m. weekdays, however, replacing the BBC World Service’s Newsday. As for news shows produced by KPLU, Mathes said “we won’t know for a while whether, and how many of, current KPLU staff might apply to openings KUOW plans to create if our offer for the frequencies is successful.”

Mathes’ letter “is in no way intended to derail the efforts of a community group’s opportunity to purchase KPLU,” a KUOW spokesperson wrote in an email to Current. “Rather, we need to be fully prepared to deliver more news and more music to the combined audience of the two stations as soon as possible, should the acquisition go through.”

Read the full letter:

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