Greeley keeps control of KUNC
Friends' bid outweighs Colorado network's
Originally published in Current, March 12, 2001
By Karen Everhart Bedford
There was no cheering on the air March 1  during KUNC-FM's 3:04 p.m. local news report on the pending transfer of the station's license.
Not that there wasn't major jubilation off-air among the staff and the Friends group of the Greeley, Colo., station, whose 20-day campaign to retain local control of KUNC generated more than $2 million in pledges from some 2,000 supporters..
Earlier that day, the University of Northern Colorado had accepted the Friends' $2 million bid for the license over Colorado Public Radio's $2.6 million offer. But however exhilarating the outcome for an exhausted staff, manager Neil Best insisted that KUNC not break its on-air standards, even in a moment of triumph.
"The station is saying in its call letters, 'Community radio for northern Colorado,' and that's a sweet sound to hear," says Pat Thomas, secretary of the Friends of KUNC. The $1.4 million raised in cash, and another $600,000 in solid pledges, "says what an incredible station our staff is producing, for people to give that kind of money."
It wouldn't have happened if KUNC hadn't created "such a great radio station that no one could bear the thought of it being silenced," she added.
The campaign for KUNC became a symbolic battle against "the homogenization of America that we see," said Best. Local restaurants go out of business due to competition from big chains, newspapers such as the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post consolidate, and there's "not a damn thing" people can to do about it.
"This became a symbol," said Best, "a chance to say something about Time-Warner and AOL and all those mergers out there."
The Friends guaranteed to pay $510,000 for a "quasi-endowment" held for KUNC by the university foundation, and this proposal gave their bid an edge over CPR's. The university recognized that if CPR acquired the endowment of about $600,000 along with the station, many of those who had donated the funds would demand their money back.
"When we did an analysis of how the endowment would be treated, and the likelihood of funds remaining, that's what tilted the balance in favor of the Friends," said Kay Norton, v.p. of university affairs. Friends of KUNC also offered to pay interest to the university on its $2 million escrow account while the FCC considers the license transfer.
"The Friends were able to raise a phenomenal amount of money in a short period of time so that they could make a competitive offer, and that was very impressive," commented Norton. "There were two competitive proposals to maintain a public radio voice in Northern Colorado, but the Friends really had the edge."
The university originally negotiated only with Denver-based CPR--notably, five of its seven voting trustees are Denver-area residents. But when listeners swiftly and vociferously objected to the sale, the trustees postponed acting on CPR's offer, and KUNC's Friends group began its campaign. The Denver-based network wanted to put a news/information schedule on KUNC, but the station's fans wanted to keep its "diverse music" format. The university gave KUNC supporters only until Feb. 28 to make a competing bid.
Educational Media Foundation, owner of the K-LOVE Christian radio network, also considered joining the bidding process. K-LOVE's initial inquiry raised the stakes of the bidding process, and prompted CPR to raise its first offer of $1.9 million to $2.6 million.
Based on its previous experience vying for frequencies against K-LOVE, CPR's board saw the religious broadcaster as a more threatening challenger for KUNC's license, said Max Wycisk, CPR president. If K-LOVE won the license, the frequency would be lost to public radio. CPR's board decided to raise its bid to $2.6 million.
"The board suspected that the Friends group was out of their territory financially," explained Wycisk, and "saw the threat as completely coming from the religious broadcaster."
But at the end of the business day on Feb. 28, K-LOVE informed the university that it would not bid. As a 100,000-watt station, KUNC is a "premiere facility," commented Joe Miller, K-LOVE finance director, but also the main NPR station serving the region. "That being the case, we felt the community pressure on a proposed sale to someone who would discontinue NPR programming was basically untenable."
"My reaction and that of the board was relief that license remained within public radio--and enormous congratulations to the Friends group for raising such a huge amount of money in short period of time," said Wycisk. "They did a great job."
. To Current's home page . Earlier news: Supporters of Greeley station launch crash fund drive to counter offer from Denver. . Outside links: KUNC and Friends of KUNC and Colorado Public Radio.
Web page posted March 17, 2001
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