The dispute over the wisdom of selling public radio station KPLU this week stirred a spirited debate among sale supporters and opponents over just how much the station’s parent, Pacific Lutheran University, pays to support the station.
The university, which plans to sell the station to the University of Washington’s KUOW for $8 million, says its contribution to KPLU totals about $1.5 million annually.
The chairman of the station’s community advisory council said the school’s cash contribution is just $30,000, less than half of one percent of the station’s operating budget. The advisory council opposes the sale.
Both the sale’s opponents and proponents agree that the numbers are so far apart because they’re counting different items.
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The university’s figure includes such PLU-provided services as human relations, legal advice, bookkeeping, payroll and building maintenance for which the radio station pays nothing, PLU spokeswoman Donna Gibbs said.
The $30,000 cited in a letter to the university, its president and governing board by advisory council chair Stephen Tan includes only the cash the university pays as part of the salary of the station’s general manager.
“They’re counting in-kind services,” Tan said. “If they want to play that game, then they’ll have to acknowledge that KPLU’s in-kind contribution to the university far exceeds PLU’s to KPLU.”
Tan said the in-kind contribution from KPLU to PLU amounts to about $2.5 million a year, most of it in the value of advertising and public relations for the university.
Gibbs countered that under the present contract between KPLU and PLU, the radio station provides promotional announcements worth about $200,000 yearly to the university. Under the sale contract to KUOW, that station will continue to provide that level of promotional support to PLU for five years after the sale.
Tan said the intangible value of KPLU to the smaller, private university is substantial in raising its profile in the community and among academic institutions.
The dispute over the station’s finances was just part of the growing controversy last week surrounding the station’s proposed sale.
A group of about 40 students and KPLU supporters staged a protest Thursday against the station’s sale. Marchers asked the Federal Communications Commission to reject the deal. The FCC decision could take three to six months.
Also Thursday, the school’s alumni association board joined the school’s board of regents in supporting the sale. In a letter addressed to the school’s alumni, the board said it believes the decision to sell the station was based on sound reasoning.
“We believe that this was a strategic decision based on careful analysis of the future of radio and a concern about how best to sustain public media in the region for as long as possible. The process to reach this decision was lengthy and thoughtful. Representative donors, alumni and stakeholders were consulted,” the group said.
John Gillie: 253-597-8663