In the middle of a Monday afternoon at the Westin Hotel, KPLU's community advisory board held an open meeting regarding Pacific Lutheran University's plans to sell the station to KUOW and the University of Washington. They were joined by dozens of KPLU listeners, who testified unanimously during a public comment session against the deal. Without any dissension, the 29-member board followed suit and voted to write a letter to urging the PLU regents not to go through with the sale.
Stephen Tan, the board chair, emphasized that the board is advisory in nature and that PLU, a private university, is under no obligation to listen to them or entertain competing offers for the station.
The KPLU staff received standing ovations from the crowd as they talked, emotionally at times, about the station's success and rebutted claims from the university that the station was declining in value. News director Erin Hennessy said KPLU has the twelfth largest public radio audience in the country and touted its long history of winning journalism awards. Its audience grew 21 percent from 2010 to 2015, and 3 percent over the past year.
Station manager Joey Cohn said a forthcoming audit will show that KPLU is $389,000 in the black, and that last year was the station's "best fiscal year in history."
Over and over again, listeners got up and referred to KPLU—a news and jazz radio station—as a part of their families. That was striking. One listener described herself as a "KUOW refugee" who fled the station's "dumbed down programming," while a former Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter said the sale process was too secretive and "not done honorably."
Despite KUOW general manger Caryn Mathes' plea that people not compare the acquisition of the station to corporate media consolidation, there were comparisons to the way Clear Channel has acquired and homogenized radio stations across the country. There were calls from among the crowd—which skewed toward the older and whiter side—for a crowdsourcing campaign to raise the $8 million necessary to compete with the stated sale price of the station.
Tan said the advisory board will act fast. A signed letter of intent between PLU and the UW has a deadline of December 18, which means the parties could finalize the sale any time between now and then.
Pacific Lutheran University did not immediately respond to a request for comment.