Failed talks derailed KCPW’s affiliation with NPR
Radio • Station executive had earlier characterized split as programming decision.
Published: June 25, 2013 07:41AM
Updated: December 7, 2013 11:34PM

KCPW-FM parted ways with NPR on Monday after months of negotiations failed to resolve how the station would pay for the Washington, D.C.,-based nonprofit’s news and informational programming.

It isn’t clear how much money KCPW owes NPR, formerly known as National Public Radio, for past programming, although the station had been charged about $110,000 a year to be an NPR affiliate. Nor is it certain how long KCPW has been in arrears.

But on May 15, after several months of fruitless talks, and shortly after KCPW’s spring pledge drive ended, NPR told the Salt Lake City public radio station to stop broadcasting NPR shows by June 30. The station’s top executive hadn’t revealed any of this publicly until Monday (although a post from someone at the station in response to a listener’s question on Sunday alluded to the split).

“It was a pretty good-sized [deficit] that we were carrying,” said CEO Ed Sweeney. “They were aware of it; we were aware of it, and that it was going to get bigger.”

So, apparently convinced that KCPW could never raise enough revenue to pay its bills on time and in full, NPR pulled the plug on the station.

“They just decided that [continuing to negotiate with KCPW] was not something they wanted to do. ... [It] was their decision. We have to respect that and move on,” Sweeney said.

In an email Monday, NPR spokeswoman Anna Christopher Bross said details of the organization’s financial and business terms with member stations was confidential.

“We have a contract with each station, and we operated within the contract terms to exercise our rights in this case,” Bross said.

Last week, Sweeney characterized the switch to cheaper, less-familiar programming provided by Public Radio International and other suppliers as being related to fundraising trouble. He said then that listeners and lenders were questioning why they should continue to support the station when the same NPR programming was available at KUER-FM, also in Salt Lake City.

In an average week, KCPW has about 35,000 local listeners, while KUER has 150,000 listeners in the Salt Lake metro area, plus another 10,000 to 15,000 elsewhere in Utah.

Until the switch Monday, only 31 percent of KCPW’s programming from 6 a.m. to midnight was not duplicated by KUER. Post-switch, the figure is 87 percent.

Sweeney maintains that, beyond NPR’s actions, KCPW needed to develop a programming schedule that would distinguish it from KUER’s lineup. Internal discussions at KCPW about how to do that had been ongoing, he added. NPR’s decision, which KCPW described on its website as “a total surprise,” simply hastened the time when KCPW would have to act, Sweeney said.

“This was the decision that we would have made at some point in time. It just came to us quicker,” he said.

Owned by Wasatch Public Media, KCPW is heard at 88.3 FM and 105.3 FM.

pbeebe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @sltribpaul