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The public radio station that Seattle almost snapped up has announced a move to downtown Tacoma

Pacific Lutheran University students were joined by KPLU (now KNKX) radio station listeners on Dec. 3, 2015 to show support for the school’s radio station after the school announced a sale to Seattle public radio station KUOW. The sale was eventually halted.
Pacific Lutheran University students were joined by KPLU (now KNKX) radio station listeners on Dec. 3, 2015 to show support for the school’s radio station after the school announced a sale to Seattle public radio station KUOW. The sale was eventually halted. The News Tribune

The Pierce County public radio station that was nearly bought by a Seattle rival in 2015 is moving its studios from the Pacific Lutheran University campus to downtown Tacoma in 2019.

KNKX, 88.5 on the FM dial, was known as KPLU as it broadcast from its home on the PLU campus. It’s been there since 1966.

PLU announced in November 2015 it was selling the station to KUOW which broadcasts near the University of Washington campus. KNKX with its 12 signals — transmitters and auxiliary translators all over western Washington — made it an attractive asset for KUOW which has a much smaller broadcast range.

KPLU listeners and jazz fans from around the world (the station streams on the internet) were outraged at the deal made without public or the station staff’s knowledge.

A community group quickly formed to buy the station’s license and save the station from moving to Seattle. PLU gave them six months to raise $7 million — the amount KUOW was offering.

Fans and listeners rallied and raised the $7 million in 137 days, plus another $1 million shortly thereafter. As part of the new deal, KPLU had to change its name and move off the PLU campus by June 2019.

KNKX’s new studios will be built inside the C.N. Gardner Building at 930 Broadway, located next to the Pythian Temple and across the street from Theater on the Square.

KNKX also has Seattle studios and plans to increase its presence there. KNKX president and general manager Joey Cohn said there would have been advantages to consolidate the studios in Seattle but pointed to the station’s long history in Pierce County and Tacoma’s reaction to the pending sale to KUOW.

“The station got saved because of the community,” Cohn said Saturday. “Tacoma was very important to the success of the campaign.”

The move is more than a way to say thank you. KNKX has already partnered with local organizations and individuals for programming and plans to increase that, Cohn said.

KNKX has had a full-time South Sound reporter, Will James, since 2017 and the station recently partnered with the Washington State Historical Society to produce a podcast on McNeil Island.

“The building is the embodiment of our programming and service to the community,” Cohn said.

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541, @crsailor
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