Laura Seitz, Deseret Morning News
The board of Community Wireless of Park City intends to sell Salt Lake City-based National Public Radio affiliate KCPW AM and FM, and potential suitors could include Utah State University and a California-based Christian broadcasting company.
Community Wireless, which has faced financial problems and questions about whether its executive pay is too high for a nonprofit group, this week issued a news release stating that its board had voted to spin off KCPW in order to better focus its attention on serving its KPCW listeners in Summit and Wasatch Counties. Community Wireless would continue to operate KCPW's sister station, KPCW, in Park City and is planning to build new studios near Park City's Main Street.
"KCPW has grown to the point that it needs to have a Salt Lake-based board of trustees whose primary responsibility is to insure that the stations serve the needs of its Wasatch Front listeners," said board president Bill Mullen. "It's time for KCPW AM and FM to become more than just a subsidiary of Park City and take the next step in their development."
KCPW, founded 14 years ago and now housed at Library Square, has a combined audience of almost 50,000 listeners and an annual budget of nearly $1.4 million dollars, according to the statement.
The Community Wireless board has given current KCPW general manager Ed Sweeney the opportunity to form a new nonprofit corporation whose board of trustees would be charged with raising the money to purchase the licenses and other assets of KCPW AM and FM. The board gave Sweeney 45 days to make an offer to purchase the assets of KCPW.
Mullen said that while it is the Community Wireless board's preference to sell the stations to the Sweeney group, the board will also entertain offers from other interested nonprofit organizations, giving priority to those that would continue the station's current news and information format.
Other potential suitors could include Utah Public Radio, which broadcasts on KUSU on the Utah State University campus in Logan, and Christian broadcasting company Educational Media Foundation, based in Rocklin, Calif.
"We're interested in the possibility of serving a statewide audience," said KUSU general manager Cathy Ives. "Right now, the one hole we have is in Salt Lake City, and there might be some interest in discussions just because it might further our mission."
She said they are waiting to see what happens during the 45-day period that the Community Wireless board has given the Sweeney group, adding that until then, it would be premature to comment further.
Keith Whipple, vice president of communications and marketing for Educational Media Foundation, said his company was aware the station was for sale but declined comment.
Community Wireless attorney Joe Wrona also declined to provide details on potential buyers. "We have been approached by other interested parties," he said. "It would be inappropriate to identify them out of respect for their privacy at this time."
Proceeds from the sale of KCPW will go to recoup the cost for Community Wireless to acquire 1010 AM and recover the operating losses that have been underwritten by loans from Community Wireless's sale of KCUA, in Coalville. The deadline for submission of offers is March 15.
Community Wireless management has come under fire in recent years after critics called into question the compensation of its two top executives, Blair and Susan Fuelner. The couple started Community Wireless 25 years ago and worked as unpaid volunteers for the first several years but have had hefty compensation packages in recent years.
According to federal tax filings by Community Wireless, Blair Feulner was paid $177,877 in total compensation in fiscal 2006 as station general manager and secretary/treasurer.
In fiscal 2005, he received $143,137 in compensation, plus a $39,815 performance bonus for total compensation of $182,952, according to the nonprofit group's tax Form 990 that it filed with the Internal Revenue Service. Susan Feulner was paid total compensation of $94,069, including a $39,815 performance bonus for her work as co-manager of Community Wireless.
In fiscal 2004, the couple received a commission of about $800,000 for selling a Coalville radio station that Blair Feulner bought for $18,800 in 1991.
The IRS filings indicate the station had operating losses of $609,366 in fiscal year 2005 and $413,250 in fiscal year 2006.
Wrona said the goal of the board in selling KCPW is to recoup its initial investment in the station and its operating expenses to date, although he declined to estimate an amount it would be seeking as a sales price. He added that with the growth of the Park City and Salt Lake City radio markets, it would be best for each operation to have its own distinct administration."The Salt Lake stations have grown in size and complexity to the point where they really do require very direct management that's focused exclusively on the needs of the Salt Lake stations," he said. "At this point, we feel that there are groups out there in a better position to manage and operate the Salt Lake stations than Community Wireless."