Rebuttals 2 – More misleading statements by PLU and KUOW

The degree of misleading and half-true statements by Pacific Lutheran University leaders and by KUOW management has surprised many in the public. If you hear that this is about “saving” or “preserving” public radio for the Puget Sound region, put your radar on high alert. There is nothing about this deal that enhances the viability of public radio — because both stations are financially healthy and there are no storms on the horizon, only fear of storms.

Part 2: A point-by-point response to Pres. Krise’s blog post about the sale.

Posted by: Thomas Krise, Date: December 1, 2015

Many of the emails I’ve received about this subject reveal listeners’ confusion and misinformation, and I can tell that many people’s passions are very strong and may overwhelm their reason. For example: people complain about: losing a South Sound resource (KPLU has been based in Seattle for years); losing jazz and blues (KUOW plans to run 24/7 jazz and blues on 88.5); losing local news coverage (KPLU and KUOW have collaborated on the Northwest News Network for years, so much of the local information has been common for a long time); losing Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, etc. (all of those are NPR programs that we buy and broadcast on both KUOW and KPLU–paying double for the privilege. Those will continue on KUOW); being unable to hear KUOW where they live (KUOW will now have 15 transmitters instead of 4 to reach more people more clearly).

As to the real issues at stake, this recent article in the Washington Post sums it up: Radio is declining across the board–public and commercial. It’s being displaced by satellite radio, online streaming, smart phone apps, etc. If we want to sustain traditional public radio for as long as possible, we need to manage what we have better. Spending twice as much as necessary for the same stuff is never a good idea (except, perhaps, for the organization selling the stuff). When the entire medium is at risk, such unnecessary spending is even less supportable.”

Analysis adapted/edited from a KPLU fan posting on the KPLU Acquisition Facebook page.

This is a summary of the points made:

    1. Passions are very strong
    2. KPLU has been based in Seattle
    3. KUOW plans to run 24/7 Jazz and Blues
    4. We will not lose local coverage
    5. Programming is duplicated
    6. KPLU and KUOW have “collaborated” on the Northwest News Network
    7. NPR fees are duplicated
    8. Radio is declining
    9. The entire medium is at risk

In answer to each of the above points:

1.Passions are very strong.
Passions about KPLU were very strong long before this sale became public. Passion helped build new studios in Tacoma and Seattle and helped grow the audience to a combined 438,000 listeners.

2. KPLU has been based in Seattle.
(A) This is less than a half-truth. KPLU operations at the Neeb Center in Tacoma are essential to KPLU. Operations at the Neeb center include the offices of General Manager Joey Cohn, Director of Content Matt Martinez, Music Director Nick Francis, Director of Finance Terell Hollins and Development Director Mary Dunaway and her entire staff. The Traffic Department, which schedules all the underwriting and promotional content on KPLU, the Engineering Department and all of the actual broadcast hardware are in the Neeb Center. The entire Jazz library is at the Neeb Center. Jazz Hosts Dick Stein, Robin Lloyd, Mary McCann and Paige Hansen work from the Neeb Center. Jazz-24 originates from the Neeb Center.
(B) KPLU operations at their Seattle office include the office of News Director Erin Hennessey and the desks of the News Department. Why? Because most of the news in our region happens in and around Seattle. It is the most logical and cost-effective way to house the News Team. “Sound Effect “ is produced in the Seattle studios. KPLU Live Studio Sessions happen at the Seattle studio–being six blocks from Jazz Alley has helped foster ten years of Studio Sessions. Jazz Host Abe Beeson and Blues Host John Kessler work from the Seattle office. They both live in the Seattle area. The Promotions Department is in Seattle, again, because it is an advantage being closer to the metro area.
(C) In fact, the Seattle studio is a huge asset, because Pacific Lutheran University is located in a tiny suburb of Tacoma. Having a bustling, thriving, downtown Seattle presence like KPLU is a wonderful thing for PLU’s image and outreach.

3. KUOW plans to run 24/7 Jazz and Blues.
(A) This is a difficult leap for many to make, because on the one hand you have KPLU, which has been an international leader in Jazz and Blues programming for about 40 years. On the other hand you have KUOW, which has no demonstrated proficiency at running a music station. The only thing that has been stated are “intentions” and “plans” to operate a music station, with no details about what the music will be, whether it will be live or automated, or even what frequency it will be on. Forgive the public for being skeptical when they are losing something they already like and pay for with their fund drive dollars.
(B) KPLU and other public radio stations have done a lot of audience and demographic research about the economics of running a successful Jazz station in a major metro market. KPLU has independently considered splitting its signal into all-Jazz and all-News. The research showed that an all-music station was not economically viable. Public radio listeners give more fund drive dollars for news than for music. For those who know that it is fiscally unsustainable to have a successful all-Jazz/Blues station, it is natural to be skeptical.

4. People are mistaken when they complain they will be losing local news coverage.
This assertion flatly wrong. People will be losing local news coverage. A news team of seven reporters, two full-time News Hosts (and part-time weekend hosts), and a News Director will be disappearing. Unless KUOW adds all of those people to their News Department, then this is a loss any way you look at it. KUOW has given no indications that it intends to expand its news.  Regading the Northwest News Network, it consists of five shared reporters, and their work does appear on both stations — along with stations in Spokane and Portland. These reporters cover the rest of the region, not the metro area.

5. Programming is duplicated.
(A) There are 168 hours in a week. KPLU and KUOW share about 60 hours of duplicate programming, at least superficially. So that leaves 108 hours of “un-duplicated” programming.
(B) Even the so-called duplication, Morning Edition and All Things Considered, have very different radio identities on each of the two stations. KUOW deletes portions of these shows and replaces primarily with more international coverage (from non-NPR sources such as the BBC).
(C) On a recent Monday morning, taking a 2-1/2 hour sample from both stations, we found only one-third of the news was duplicated during these “duplicated” programs.

6. Collaboration – Much of the local News information is common to both stations.
It is true that both KPLU and KUOW have helped pay for the reporters on the Northwest News Network. That is the extent of the “collaboration,” and it is also collaboration with multiple stations in Washington and Oregon. As stated above, these reporters operate independently of KPLU and KUOW and cover the region outside the metro area, and do not account for the bulk of local coverage.

7. NPR fees are duplicated.
(A) This assertion is wrong. No fees are duplicated. NPR fees for the syndicated programs are based on how many people are listening. KPLU pays their share based on the size of their listening audience, and KUOW pays their share based on the size of their listening audience.
(B) Approximately 250,000 of KPLU’s broadcast listeners are news listeners, and even if they all automatically start listening to KUOW (a highly unlikely scenario), guess what? KUOW’s NPR fees would increase dramatically. There may be some savings, but the fee that KUOW would pay to NPR would certainly go up.

8. Radio is declining across the board.
This is a generalized statistic and does not describe the reality of KPLU. While radio use is very slowly declining, KPLU’s statistics go against this trend. KPLU has seen 21% audience growth in the last five years, and the most successful fundraising year in its history. KPLU’s internet statistics with online listening and Jazz 24 are also increasing. The national situation is not a logical reason to sell KPLU now, or to rush through a deal.

9. The entire medium is at risk.
Again, KPLU’s listener numbers go against “an entire medium at risk”. So does KUOW’s interest in purchasing a second frequency — it would mean their investment is pointless. To paraphrase Hillary Clinton, “We’re sorry if our facts don’t fit your narrative.”

If you missed it, here’s the link to more Rebuttals, and more are coming soon.

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