HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. -- A petition to "Save WNKU" has surged more than 4,000 signatures in the week since Northern Kentucky University announced it would sell off its public radio station because of financial problems.
Now, Louisville Public Media is hoping NKU will reconsider its $1.9 million sale to the Bible Broadcasting Corporation given the long-standing cultural significance of WNKU.
“A station like WNKU is so important to the local music scene and listeners who count on a format like that for music discovery and where to go locally for music,” said Stacy Owen, program director at Louisville radio station WFPK.
Louisville Public Media had been exploring buying the radio station and was surprised by last week's "sudden announcement” of the sale, Owen said. She added that they expressed interest to their consultant at the end of December and were told there was no activity in the bidding process, which had been ongoing since June 2016.
With a new president getting his feet under him at Louisville Public Media in December, Owen said they had been trying to decide what kind of offer to make for WNKU.
She said they hope to submit a proposal within the next couple days, but that may be too little, too late for NKU.
"At this point, the contract exists and is in place. It hasn’t been fully executed, but we had a bid process that lasted a long time. It was pretty known publicly that this process was ongoing,” said NKU spokesman Chris Cole. "I don’t want to speculate on the business side, but we’re moving forward."
If NKU chooses to proceed as planned, Owen hopes the school's board of regents will instead consider selling them the Middletown signal (105.9 WNKN) to provide an adult album alternative (Triple-A) format station in the Greater Cincinnati area. The regents made no announcement last week concerning the future of WNKN other than noting that repairs to the land, tower and transmitter would be completed by the end of February.
An NKU alumna, Owen got her start in radio as an announcer at WNKU in 1989 and worked her way up the ranks to music director before leaving in 2000. She said her strong ties to the community and feel for the market give her confidence about putting Louisville Public Media’s feet on the ground in Cincinnati.
"A large part of our success here has been through engagement with the community, and that’s what I’d love to be able to do in Cincinnati,” Owen said. “Engagement is really the only way public radio is successful."
Regents provided a summary of revenue and expenses from 2011 to 2016, showing that WNKU’s deficits have grown each year since 2012 to a total net deficit of $2.6 million despite NKU’s total subsidy of $1.8 million during that period. However, this grim financial outlook doesn't worry Owen.
“We’ve looked at enough numbers and information that if we’re just dealing with the original signal or the Middletown signal, we think the numbers and support there would be great enough,” Owen said.
CincyMusic.com encourages WNKU fans to keep up the faith and continue signing its online petition , which jumped from 3,400 signatures the morning of Feb. 14 to 7,800 supporters by Tuesday morning.
In the meantime, WVXU is attempting to fill the void WNKU’s imminent departure leaves in the Tri-State’s music scene. Starting at 10 a.m. Feb. 17, WVXU added a Triple-A format broadcast to its digital offerings. The broadcast is only available through an HD radio tuner or by streaming online.