The controversy over the proposed sale of Pacific Lutheran University’s public radio station is growing louder with a demonstration scheduled for noon Thursday at the university’s campus and an online petition urging the sale be scrapped.
Meanwhile, the university’s president, Tom Krise, has defended the university’s decision to sell the station to the University of Washington’s KUOW, saying the sale would ensure the survival of public radio in the Pacific Northwest.
The 12 p.m. rally is set for Thursday in the university’s Red Square. Demonstration organizer Zoe Velie, a KPLU intern and PLU student, said the university failed to consult the radio station’s listeners and most of its staff before announcing the sale last month.
That sale has been approved by the governing bodies of PLU and the University of Washington. It will take effect if the Federal Communications Commission approves the combination of the two public radio stations. That FCC review process can take three to six months.
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In an online post from Krise, he said listeners’ “confusion and misinformation” has fueled their passion to torpedo the sale of the news and music station.
“People’s passions are very strong and may overwhelm their reason,” wrote Krise. He noted that KUOW plans to continue operating KPLU, but as a 24-hour jazz and blues station. The news function of the two stations will be focused in KUOW.
“Radio is declining across the board — public and commercial,” he said. “If we want to sustain traditional public radio as long as possible, we need to manage what we have better.”
Both stations now pay for duplicate national content, a practice that will be eliminated if the two stations merge, he noted.
A letter to Krise and the PLU board of regents from Stephen Tan, chair of the KPLU Community Advisory Board, said that KPLU’s online and on-air weekly audience continues to grow.
A petition urging the FCC to reject the sale on change.org had attracted more than 300 supporters by midday Wednesday. That petition claims the two universities failed to air the possibility of the sale before it was approved and that the combination of the two stations would reduce the diversity of news content available to listeners. The closure of KPLU’s news operation, the petition noted, will eliminate valuable training opportunities for communications students and leave many of the station’s veteran staffers jobless. A separate petition to PLU against the proposed sale had more than 1,000 supporters.
Krise said the sale would eliminate duplicate public broadcasting fundraising efforts and improve the broadcasting reach of both stations.
PLU spokeswoman Donna Gibbs said the university intends to treat Thursday’s protesters respectfully and to listen to the messages that they bring to the administration.
Meanwhile, Gibbs said the university has yet to be notified about the fate of its application to waive financial conditions for some $54 million worth of bonds it sold to finance construction at the school. Ratings agency Standard & Poors downrated those bonds in September after noting the university had failed to maintain liquid assets at the level called for in the bond covenants.
“We have submitted the paperwork necessary to receive those waivers, and we expect to hear on or before Dec. 18,” said Gibbs.
Some of the sale’s critics contend the university is selling the station to help solve financial problems. The sale price totals $8 million — $7 million in cash and $1 million in sponsor support from the sale.
The university maintains its finances are in good shape and that it has the assets necessary to repay the bonds if necessary without using the sale proceeds.
John Gillie: 253-597-8663