The community group hoping to preserve 88.5 FM as an independent radio station has hit its $7 million fundraising goal a month ahead of schedule. KPLU General Manager Joey Cohn announced live on the air Thursday afternoon that nearly 18,000 donors have raised enough money to make a bid for the station.
"It's unprecedented, I mean, we've been saying we have made public radio history, and we really have,” said KPLU General Manager Joey Cohn. “To raise $7 million dollars in four and a half months -- that's never been done."
Pacific Lutheran University announced in November that it would sell the station to the University of Washington-licensed public radio station KUOW. KUOW said it planned to replace KPLU's news-and-jazz format with a 24-hour music service.
The fundraising effort is a major step toward stopping that sale and making the station independent, but representatives from Friends of 88.5 FM and license-holder Pacific Lutheran University must still negotiate a new purchase agreement.
“We wish the community group hearty congratulations, and we’re ready and willing to negotiate specific details in advance of the June 30 deadline,” said PLU Vice President of Communications Donna Gibbs.
If an agreement is completed and approved by the Federal Communications Commission, the University of Washington has said it will withdraw its offer and allow the group to purchase KPLU.
“When they began people thought $7 million might be a stretch, but it really is impressive,” said Norm Arkans, University of Washington’s associate vice president for media relations and communications. “Congratulations to everybody at the station and in the community who participated.”
Fundraising began in January after UW and PLU, in response to public pressure, agreed to let an independent non-profit raise money to match UW’s offer of $7 million plus $1 million in on-air promotion. The agreement set a deadline of June 30.
Matt Martinez, KPLU’s director of content, says now that the money has been raised the entire process is likely to take several months, and that he’s hoping Friends of 88.5 FM could take ownership of the station by September or October. The station would no longer be called KPLU, and would instead have new call letters.
Martinez said listeners shouldn’t expect major changes to the format. But he said the station will renew its commitment to interacting directly with the community that stepped up to save it.
“That is the one thing we are doubling down on,” said Martinez. “We don’t want to lose that.”
NOTE: KPLU has hired an independent editor to oversee coverage of this story.