Radio station KCPW has received a purchase offer of $3.7 million from Christian broadcasting company Educational Media Foundation, based in Rocklin, Calif.
The pending agreement could mean the days are numbered for one of Salt Lake City's most popular public radio stations, and the pending change in format for the station has angered some of KCPW's long-time supporters and donors. KCPW is a National Public Radio affiliate that broadcasts in AM and FM.
"KCPW is an incredibly important, valuable community resource, and I don't want to see it go away," said Twinkle Chisholm, a station supporter and donor. "There are few of them left, and I don't want to see that happen. It sucks."
The station's owner, Community Wireless of Park City, announced in February 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.
Chisholm, along with about 50 other supporters, rallied Tuesday in protest of the station's impending sale at the KCPW Library Square studios.
Many supporters are frustrated because they have had little success contacting anyone on the Community Wireless board of directors or station management to discuss a potential deal to purchase the station through a local investor group, she said. The board has also barred station employees from discussing the matter with the public.
"They are not returning calls, and that bothers me a great deal," she said.
Former KCPW general manager Ed Sweeney said his group, Wasatch Public Media, wants to buy the station and has been given until March 15 to come up with a plan that matches the current offer on the table from EMF. He said Wasatch's previous offer of $2.4 million submitted on March 6 has to be amended sufficiently to keep their hopes of buying the station alive.
"I'm doing my very best to scramble to come up with a plan that would meet the satisfaction of Community Wireless that would match the $3.7 million," he said. "We have strong grass-roots support."
Sweeney said he has secured most of the funding but is working to locate additional investors to make up the $1.3 million needed to match EMF.
Steve Denkers, board member of the Stephen G. and Susan E. Denkers Family Foundation, who has donated several hundred thousand dollars to the station over the past several years, said he is also troubled by the most recent developments regarding the sale of the station.
"If they can sell the station to an evangelical group for x-amount of dollars, then that's what they can do," he said. "In a moral sense or in a fair game sense, we who pledged on pledge drives and gave money to building the station deserve a chance to raise the money to buy it."
Denkers said he expected to have at least six months to put together a committee that would work at organizing funding to keep the station locally owned. He said the current March 15 deadline may be too soon for an agreement to be reached in time.
Calls by the Deseret Morning News to KCPW attorney Joe Wrona and Keith Whipple, vice president of communications and marketing for Educational Media Foundation, were not returned Wednesday.
KCPW, founded 14 years ago, has a combined audience of almost 50,000 listeners and an annual budget of almost $1.4 million dollars, according to financial statements obtained by the Deseret Morning News.
Previously, the Community Wireless board said it preferred to sell the stations to the Sweeney group. But the board also retained the right to entertain offers from other interested nonprofit organizations, giving priority to those that would continue the station's current news and information format.
EMF has dozens of stations nationwide that broadcast Christian-oriented music, though it is not clear if the company would change KCPW's format from the current NPR news and talk programs.
With the weekend deadline looming, Sweeney said he will continue work at finding another investor to try to make up the current $1.3 million dollar shortfall Wasatch Public Media has."I'm doing my best to try to get financial support to back up our offer," he said. "I'm realistic that we have a tough battle ahead of us, and I'm going to do everything in my power to put together the offer in a business-like way."