Thursday, August 27, 2009

More on the potential sale
of KFUO, changes at WSIE

The fate of classical music, jazz, and local St. Louis arts coverage on radio station KFUO (99.1 FM) remains in doubt, as the station's owners consider whether or not to sell.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch classical music critic Sarah Bryan Miller has been doing good work on this story since rumors of a possible sale first surfaced back in March of this year. She summarized the current situation in a blog post here:
"The board of directors of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod met last Thursday and Friday. According to Vicki Biggs, the LCMS’s director of public affairs and media relations; the KFUO committee made its presentation on whether to sell its license to Joy FM, a Christian rock station, for $18 million.

“No decision was made,” said Biggs. She said the committee would “continue to do its work,” and is expected to make an announcement toward the end of this week.

Since Joy FM does not have the money, sources say the LCMS would have to finance the sale itself. The station has never been advertised, and the negotiations with Joy FM have been secret.

Some discussions were held between Omaha attorney Kermit Brashear, a member of the LCMS board who is in charge of selling the station, and the Radio Arts Board, but those broke down over what seem to be personality issues. The Arts Board grew out of the Circle of Friends, a philanthropic group which has raised over $800,000 to support KFUO-FM and its programming over the last two years."
(For more, including links to Miller's previous coverage of the story, see this post and this post. )

FOX 2 News reporter Charles Jaco also had a story last weekend about the potential sale, which can be viewed online here, and the Post's editorial page has chimed in with a somewhat wishy-washy editorial here. (By "wishy-washy," I mean that while it is sympathetic to classical music fans who don't want to lose their favorite station, there doesn't seem to be an explicit call for KFUO's owners either to retain the current format or to sell to someone who will.)

St. Louis area jazz fans have an interest what happens because KFUO also is the home of Don Wolff's long-running program "I Love Jazz," which last year began airing Friday nights on the station. As of this writing, there's been no announcement on the ultimate fate of KFUO, but when the news breaks, we'll have something on it here at StLJN.

UPDATE - 5:00 p.m., 8/28/09: The Post has just published a story by Miller headlined "Lutheran Church votes to continue KFUO sale talks" that reads in part:
"No timetable was given, and the special board committee headed by Omaha lawyer Kermit Brashear is charged with pursuing negotiations to "continue the uninterrupted broadcast of the 99.1 classical format in the St. Louis market," according to the announcement, which is posted at But the board also gives Brashear's committee "absolute and sole discretion" for a sale, without further consultation of the full board of directors."
...which would seem to indicate that a sale could be consummated at any time. You can read the whole article here, and the statement about the KFUO sale issued today by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and quoted in the story is here.

Meanwhile, over across the river in Edwardsville, the St. Louis area's only all-jazz station, WSIE (88.7), appears to have laid off all of its local hosts for weekday programming. Rumors regarding possible changes at WSIE have been flying since May, when news leaked that the university had formed a committee to study station operations. In response, WSIE listeners started a Facebook group called "Save 88.7 The Jazz Station," which has grown to more than 1,300 members.

Not long after the Facebook group was formed and StLJN ran the post linked above, the Alestle, the campus newspaper at Southern Illinois University - Edwardsville, on May 27 published a story by Rosie Githinji with the headline "No News is Good News for WSIE."

The piece quoted university officials as saying they intended to continue the jazz format at WSIE, but also included a rather telling quote from station general manager Frank Akers: "WSIE is one of a few major public stations in the United States without a fund raising staff," Akers said. "While it seems very easy to just get on the air and ask for money, in reality, it takes several fulltime employees, which WSIE does not have, to organize and do the paperwork associated with such fund raising."

Now it appears WSIE is dumping most of its local programming, as longtime air personalities Ross Gentile, EB Stevenson and Bob Pelc all have been removed from the schedule, according to a post by Stevenson on the "Save 88.7" Facebook group. (As this is written, the program guide on the station's Web site still lists all three as hosts of their respective former programs.)

Writing under his real name Eric Bueneman, Stevenson had sounded a glimmer of hope in a posting earlier this summer on the Facebook group's Wall, writing that, while station employees were bring put on unpaid leave, "I am scheduled to return as early as August 24; that date will depend on what the University does."

The post appears to have been removed, but it went on to say that "The station was transferred from the College of Arts and Sciences to the Department of Marketing and Communication on July 13, 2009. There are no plans to change the format at the station; an advisory committee is being formed to see how they can make WSIE an even more effective Jazz station, as well as an effective marketing tool for SIUE, especially their Department of Jazz Studies.

However, another member of the group, Aaron, writing on July 2, found a University spokesperson to be evasive: "The Public Affairs Dept at SIUE had stated that a decision would be made by July 1 about the future of WSIE and whether there'd be a change in format. I just spoke to Beth in that Department. To say that she was evasive would be a gigantic understatement. She said it's up to the Chancellor to make a final decision and that the "Committee" has issued their report to him and he will make a decision based on that report. When I asked her how will we the public know a decision has been made? She said there will be an announcement. I said, "Great! Where can we get that announcement? Newspaper? Internet? TV station?" She said she really doesn't know. "

Then on August 20, Stevenson wrote, "I will not be returning to the air at WSIE, as anticpated, on August 24. Live and local weekday programming will end on August 21 when Bob Pelc does his last show on the station. It appears that Human Resources at SIUE is also keeping GM Frank Akers in the dark about who gets to come back to the station and who doesn't. It appears I may have worked my last shift at WSIE; if SIUE doesn't let me return, I will be retiring from the radio business."

Stevenson confirmed his departure from the station and SIU-E in a discussion board post today.

So what's really happening at WSIE? Is the station simply going to put more syndicated programs in the time slots formerly occupied by local hosts? Or is this a prelude to a more drastic change of some sort, like a format flip? This definitely seems to merit further inquiry, so please stay tuned in the coming days as yr. humble StLJN editor attempts to ferret out a bit more information.

No comments: