Seattle’s public radio KUOW will buy KPLU

Say goodbye to KPLU, the public radio station owned and operated by Pacific Lutheran University.

KUOW, a Seattle-based public radio outlet, has announced that PLU plans to sell its broadcasting licenses to the University of Washington.

“A formal agreement has not been finalized,” the Seattle station said in a notice to listeners and supporters Thursday.

“However,” the statement continued, “it is expected that KUOW/Puget Sound Public Radio will operate 88.5 FM and its other frequencies and there will be two stations: one for National Public Radio and Northwest news (94.9 FM) and one dedicated to jazz music (88.5 FM).

KPLU staff members were informed of the pending transaction at a staff meeting Thursday.

“The purchase price for the station and its assets is $8 million, comprising $7 million in cash and $1 million of underwriting announcements over 10 years,” the KUOW announcement stated.

Among the details in the announcement:

▪ Pending approval by the Federal Communications Commission, 88.5 “will assume a new call signal and name that reflects the jazz programming.”

▪ 88.5 will become an all-music station, and all news and information programming will air on KUOW frequencies. “Evolving the format of 88.5 to all-music programming gives listeners two distinct public radio stations — one for jazz and the other for National Public Radio and locally produced content,” the KUOW statement said.

▪ Concerning staff, the Seattle station said, “KUOW will have several positions open for our new, all-music station at 88.5. These will be posted through the University of Washington as they become available.” There was no announcement concerning the employment of current KPLU staff.

Donna Gibbs, vice president for marketing and communications at PLU, said Thursday afternoon, “This seemed like a natural union and a way for us to give our jazz listeners a dedicated place where they can hear jazz.”

She noted that “it’s no secret that traditional media platforms are going through a radical change. People, particularly millenials, are consuming content in a different way. We’ve seen a gentle drift down in listenership.”

Gibbs said that the university “secured an independent appraisal in the spring, and that became the basis for negotiations. The appraisal and the offer price are within the range of recent comparison sales, between $6 million and $12 million.”

The KPLU music library is included in the deal, as are repeater stations that broadcast KPLU programming in areas beyond the regular broadcast range.

Proceeds of the sale will go to the school’s endowment fund, currently at $85 million, Gibbs said.

She said talks concerning the deal were not made public before Thursday’s announcement because “there wasn’t anything public to share until there was an actual offer.”

One longtime staff member, Paige Hansen, attended a KPLU staff meeting Thursday and said the announcement came as a surprise.

“It seems to be a done deal,” she said. “I really think overall there was a lot of sadness. You could just feel the heartbreak in the room.

“It sounds like they are hoping to retain just over a third of the current staff, with the assumption that the remainder would be let go,” she said.

Hansen said she asked one of the PLU officials at the meeting why the transaction was necessary, and if it was “for the money.”

“They said no, PLU is not selling this for the money. (But) if you have a crown jewel in your hand, why sell it? They insist this will be good for public radio. It seems to me it was done in secret.”

KPLU General Manager Joey Cohn said Thursday afternoon that he has been aware of an ongoing conversation between the two stations concerning some sort of consolidation.

“If this was going to happen, KUOW is the best steward of the jazz (programming) moving forward,” he said. “I’m pleased that they want to continue the jazz service to the community. There have been discussions for many years for KUOW and KLPU to work together. These discussions have been going on for 15 years. The idea has circulated for some time.”

He said the UW Board of Regents approved the purchase at its Thursday meeting.

Final approval by the FCC could take “four to six months” Cohn said, and Gibbs said the final paperwork should be available to the FCC by the end of December.

C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535