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Regents Consider Sale of KUMD-FM to WDSE-TV

Jon Ellis, WDIO-TV
Updated: February 13, 2020 10:38 PM

The University of Minnesota's Board of Regents is considering the sale of KUMD 103.3 FM to the group that owns PBS station WDSE-TV, a transaction that would retain the station's public radio format but could change the role that UMD students play at the station.

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The possible sale was submitted for review at a Finance & Operations Committee meeting on Thursday.  Under the plan, the Duluth-Superior Area Educational Television Corporation would buy KUMD for $175,000.

Chancellor Lendley Black told the committee that though he enjoys KUMD and appreciates its contributions to the community, it has been increasingly difficult for the university to provide financial support for the ongoing operation and maintenance of the station.  

"Instead of us selling KUMD's broadcasting license to a commericial entity, this transaction retains a local public radio presence in Duluth, Superior, and northeast Minnesota. WDSE understands and honors the community commitment that has been a long-standing traidtion of KUMD," Black told the committee.

Black said the potential sale has been in the works for more than two years.

KUMD would continue to operate as a public radio station and KUMD's five staff members would be offered similar positions.  The station would eventually be moved into WDSE's building on the UMD campus.

According to a summary provided as part of the agenda, KUMD's broadcasting equipment is "well beyond the end of its useful life."  A non-binding letter of intent from DSAETC says WDSE would invest $1.6 to $3 million into KUMD for things like a new transmitter, studio and editing suites, a strategic plan, and marketing.  

Documents do not mention the future of student-produced programming on KUMD, which airs in the late evening and overnight hours.  When asked by Regent Mike Kenyanya about the future role of students at the station, Black acknowledged that the new owners could make a change.

"I've had extensive talks with [DSAETC General Manager] Patty Mester about this issue and what I continue to hear is a sincere interest in continuing student involvement and, in fact, perhaps in a new way because they'll be dealing with mixed media, combined media.  So we hope over time there will be increased opportunities for them that could be even more helpful than what they have now," Black said.

Black later issued a statement saying that WDSE has "grown their commitment to educational programming in a number of ways, including the continuation of valuable learning experiences and opportunities for UMD students."

Having been around since 1957, KUMD is the oldest public radio station in the Twin Ports but now competes with three Minnesota Public Radio networks, two Wisconsin Public Radio networks, and a station owned by the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.  Nielsen Audio ratings show KUMD had an average quarterly-hour share of 2.5% of the listening audience ages 12 and older during a survey conducted in the fall of 2019.

Unlike the statewide networks, KUMD's program schedule mostly consist of local programs featuring local musicians and promoting concerts and events like the Homegrown Music Festival.  Its broad adult alternative playlist primarily competes with MPR's "The Current."

KUMD transmits with 100,000 Watts on a frequency that could be used for commercial broadcasting.  A media broker estimated KUMD's fair market value to be $350,000 but cautioned that a broker would likely take a 25 percent commission in the event of a sale.  There would not be a commission if the station is sold to DSAETC.

Both of Duluth's major commercial radio groups will already be at their regulatory cap of four major FM signals after a separate deal announced earlier this month.  The commercial radio business currently operates with clusters of stations, rather than standalone operations.

The committee did not take action on the letter of intent at Thursday's meeting.

The proposed sale requires approval from the full Board of Regents and the Federal Communications Commission.  Though there is a letter of intent, an asset purchase agreement has not yet been drafted, and an FCC application to transfer the license would not be submitted unless the plan receives approval from the Regents.

Credits

Jon Ellis, WDIO-TV

Copyright 2020 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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