Public-radio station KUOW is poised to purchase fellow public station KPLU in an $8 million deal that needs approval from the Federal Communications Commission.
Seattle stands to lose yet another stand-alone news source after the University of Washington’s Board of Regents voted Thursday to allow public-radio station KUOW to purchase KPLU’s broadcasting license for $8 million.
According to Donna Gibbs, a spokeswoman for Pacific Lutheran University, the UW and PLU hope to finalize the details by late December, then forward the proposed acquisition to the Federal Communications Commission for approval.
The FCC’s process, she said, could take as long as six months.
The University of Washington station, at 94.9 FM, is well-known for its National Public Radio news programs, while the Pacific Lutheran University station, at 88.5, broadcasts both news and jazz.
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At Thursday’s regents meeting, KUOW President Caryn Mathes said there are no short-term plans to change KPLU’s programming, but that KPLU will eventually carry an all-jazz format.
Though Gibbs says the sale has been negotiated for the better part of a year, KPLU staff were not notified until hours before the UW Regents vote. “It’s been a difficult day,” said Ashley Gross, who covers business and labor for KPLU. “We all love this station and are proud of the work we’ve done here.”
Gibbs said that between news, jazz and “back-office functions,” KPLU employs 36 people. KUOW, she said, estimates it will post 20 new jobs once the transaction is complete — but none will be guaranteed to KPLU employees, who were shocked and saddened by the announcement.
“I’m pretty upset about this,” said longtime KPLU listener and donor Curt Milton, a former copy editor and web producer for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which ended its print operations in 2009.
Milton, who said he’s donated to KPLU for the past two decades, prefers KPLU’s reporting and its emphasis on issues such as environmental journalism.
“I like their depth,” he said. “It’s the same argument we made when the P-I was in trouble — the more news there is, the better. It’s no slime on KUOW … but it is a loss when you lose that kind of thing.”
Mathes said the two stations each broadcast 65 hours a week of duplicate news content — including Morning Edition and All Things Considered — and that merging their broadcasting equipment would allow both stations to reach more listeners across a wider geographical area.
The $8 million deal, she said, would be paid from $4.5 million in KUOW reserves, $2.5 million from the UW’s internal lending program and $1 million in underwriting funds.
Joey Cohn, KPLU’s general manager, said Thursday’s announcement was a surprise, but hoped the acquisition would free up more money for local reporting. “If KUOW does hire more reporters from KPLU,” he said, “it will help to strengthen their coverage.”
Gibbs said KPLU’s budget was strong, but it had been steadily losing listeners to the “proliferation of news sources from bloggers to independent media like Crosscut.”
“We’re living in a time when media-consumption habits are changing radically,” she said. “Each year, this asset continues to decline in value.”