[Note: This article reflects the original proposal by PLU and KUOW, presented on Nov. 12.]
- Local news content will significantly diminish. Contrary to statements by the President of PLU and KUOW’s General Manager, the proposed acquisition will NOT benefit news production. KUOW has no plans to expand its news offerings. It only promises to look into it. In fact, in order to fund its $8 million purchase, KUOW may face pressure to control spending on expensive journalists. The reporting produced at KPLU will simply be subtracted from the community.
- The fate of jazz programming is uncertain. KUOW is promising only to experiment with an “all-music” station that would include jazz. It’s not clear how much of the programming would be jazz. And if the revenue doesn’t work out, they will try something else with the 88.5 frequency — and that’s the end of jazz programming. KUOW is not committing to hiring any of KPLU’s jazz hosts or maintaining its signature sound.
- The dual format (news + jazz) has allowed KPLU to survive. The dual format may be frustrating for many listeners – who only want either the news or the jazz. But it also allows the station to gain revenue from two different audiences, as well as a very large number who enjoy both. It’s not clear that the greater Seattle market could support an all-jazz station or a second member-funded all-news station. Of the KPLU broadcast audience, there has been a fairly balanced mix of listeners — about 70% of listeners tuning in to jazz and 75% tuning in to news (there’s overlap). Among donors, two-thirds say they listen to both. Less than 10% of current donors say they only listen to jazz — meaning an all-jazz station faces significant obstacles.
- Neither PLU nor KUOW has been honest or transparent with the public about the sale. Both entities are happy to mislead you. They both have had to backtrack from initial public statements. And there is something fundamentally unfair about taking a community asset, publicly funded, and selling it in a way that is deliberately concealed from the public. The number of misleading statements (several listed here) is dismaying. PLU says it’s not about the money, but the university’s weak financials suggest otherwise. [see the rebuttals pages for a fuller exploration of the misleading statements]
- KPLU has more than 350,000 listeners who prefer an alternative to KUOW. Most of KPLU’s broadcast listeners are news listeners. The largest portion also live in Seattle, and, interestingly, 30% don’t even listen to jazz. Why would they choose to listen KPLU instead of KUOW? The top reasons given include the special features on KPLU – from the quality of the local news, to special reports, to BirdNote. Some people cite the sound of the hosts and reporters – more friendly, more lively, more engaging. There’s an overall sound to KPLU that makes it distinct and reflects an approach to producing radio news that’s different from KUOW.
- KPLU is a proven source of innovation. This is the station that pioneered the “shorter fund-drive” and continues to raise its budget in a fraction of the time that other stations spend on fund-drives. This station created the year-long series, “I Wonder Why,” which is now being copied on KUOW. It’s the station that teamed up with the Audubon Society to create the nationally syndicated BirdNote feature. It’s the station that refined a jazz format that blends the traditional and contemporary in a way that has built a bigger jazz audience than nearly any other station in the country – and has attracted a global audience of 90,000 weekly listeners online.
- Preserving KPLU also preserves one of America’s longest running blues shows. KUOW was notably silent about preserving a blues show during the first week after the sale went public. Even now, they’ve barely mentioned it. The All-Blues show launched in the 1980s and runs on Saturday and Sunday evenings, and with 12 hours a week of programming, offers more blues content than virtually any major market NPR station. It has consistently won accolades from the local community and distinguished honors nationally — including (ironically?) the “Keeping the Blues Alive” award from the Blues Foundation in Memphis.
- We must act before December 18 (maybe much sooner) to alter the sale. The two stations are still negotiating the fine points and they plan to submit a final agreement to the Federal Communications Commission no later than Dec. 18. After that date, it will be harder to derail or even influence the takeover. Given the controversy, they may try to finalize a deal much sooner. They failed to understand how important KPLU is to listeners and have been tone-deaf to the many differences between the stations.
- NPR stations can thrive as independent non-profits – without a university connection. There are “community-licensed” NPR stations in San Francisco, Cleveland, Denver and many other cities. New York City’s station was sold by Rudy Giuliani to raise money for the city — but he used a public process that allowed the station to remain independent. About one-third of all NPR affiliates are community licensed, and many major cities have two thriving NPR affiliates. Right here in Seattle, the UW recently started the process to transfer the license for music station KEXP to the independent Friends of KEXP. KPLU is financially self-sustaining and fiscally sound, and has been for many years. Indications are that it would remain so well into the future. If a non-profit community group could raise $8 million for a competing bid for the station, could that better serve the people of western Washington?
Get involved: Ask PLU and UW to allow public input on the fate of a publicly funded institution.