KFUO's current owners, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, want to sell the station to raise money. The prospective buyers, listener-supported station Joy FM, currently broadcast on 94.1 FM and 97.7 FM, two less-powerful signals located on the outskirts of the St. Louis metro area. Their plan is to bring the Christian contemporary music format currently airing on those stations to the KFUO frequency.
Classical music fans, fearful of losing the only radio station in St. Louis that plays their favorite music, have opposed the sale, and a group of supporters of the current KFUO format even made a counter-offer to buy the station. That offer was rejected, and last month the LCMS board of directors gave its representative the authority to complete a sale without further board action.
Somewhere in there, it also came out that that the proposed deal requires the LCMS to finance the purchase price, because Joy FM doesn't have the necessary cash. (You can read more of the back story here, here and here.) Deal structure notwithstanding, local jazz fans also have an interest in the potential sale, because KFUO also has been the home to longtime jazz radio personality Don Wolff's program I Love Jazz since May of 2008.
Absher's piece, titled "Why So Secretive About The KFUO-FM Sale?" also raises questions about the financial aspects of the deal:
"Why, you may wonder, is everything being done so quietly? After all, no information has been forthcoming on this since word came out the church was pursuing a rather irresponsible (from a business perspective) deal with a group that already has a couple Christian music stations in the market but doesn't have enough money to buy KFUO-FM...(snip)Absher notes the recent $14 million sale of Boston's classical music station WCRB (99.5 FM) to public broadcaster WGBH as both an indicator of potential value and an example of a sale transaction done right, then goes on to say:
...In fact, it's possible a couple of very influential folks within the LCMS have let the board members know the push by two of them to sell the station and finance the sale was as stupid as it appeared. In fact, the purported buyer didn't have access to enough money to pay the amount it had bid. Red flag, anyone?
"Meanwhile, most members of the Lutheran Church are completely unaware of the business that is being conducted involving assets owned by the synod - assets that have been supported by money the church members gave to the synod. They're going to be very surprised and angry when this deal involving their money is announced."St. Louis Post-Dispatch classical music critic Sarah Bryan Miller links to Absher's piece, noting:
"The MoSyn will have to finance the $18 million sale itself, thereby getting out of the radio business (none of my sources seriously expect the all-religious AM station to be kept going for long once the FM side is sold) and into the financing business instead. Joy also has a balloon note for $600,000 to meet in a little more than a year, for the purchase of its two present “rimshot” stations."Miller's piece also features some skeptical comments from a couple of readers, best summed up so far by the remark, "This deal stinks like a month-old mackerel." Answering one commenter's question about why the LCMS seems to want to make a deal that offers seemingly less-than-optimal terms, Miller replies that it is her "understanding is that it’s about a determination to sell the station to self-defined “Christians,” as opposed to what one MoSyn blogger called “Jews, atheists, Unitarians and Episcopalians.
She continues, "There’s also a serious reverse snobbery and overt hostility to the fine arts (and the kind of people who like them) to be found in some quarters, like the indignant-but-anonymous posters who constantly refer to KFUO’s listeners as “rich” and its playlist as “pop classical.” Given that it’s the only station on the dial in this market that plays that genre, and given what I know about the listenership, I don’t understand the hostility - but there it is."
Ultimately, any sale of KFUO would have to approved by the Federal Communications Commission, where it conceivably could be challenged as being not "in the public interest."
As noted here before, the St. Louis metro area currently has 11 stations offering some form of Christian religious or spiritual programming, and one - KFUO - playing classical music. So there's certainly an argument to be made that the public could be better served by keeping KFUO in its current format, thereby maintaining a diversity of local programming and ensuring the free availability of classical music to all, rich and poor, over the publicly-owned airwaves. Will someone step up to make that argument, and would the FCC actually give it serious consideration? Stay tuned...