After weeks of negotiations with various potential suitors, the board of trustees of Community Wireless of Park City voted unanimously Friday to sign a letter of intent to sell the assets of Salt Lake City-based KCPW FM to Wasatch Public Media Inc. for $2.4 million.
The KCPW AM station will be sold to IHR Educational Broadcasting, a network of Catholic radio stations, for $1.3 million, according to a statement from the Community Wireless board. The sale to IHR likely will result in a format change to Catholic programming for the AM station, leaving Utah without an AM-band National Public Radio station.
IHR Educational Broadcasting is the corporate name of Immaculate Heart Radio, a nonprofit group based in Fair Oaks, Calif., that runs the network of Catholic radio stations. The assets of the KCPW AM station consist primarily of a broadcasting tower and the licenses to broadcast on the 1010 AM frequency.
Wasatch Public Media is a group of local investors including KCPW listeners and supporters, led by former KCPW general manager Ed Sweeney. He has said his group is committed to maintaining KCPW FM's existing National Public Radio format.
He noted that Wasatch Public Media still has some requirements to meet for the sale to be finalized. Sweeney said he expects to reach an operating agreement within 15 days to assume control of the station's daily work. He said his group has 60 days to prove to Community Wireless that his group's financing is sound, or the deal could be voided.
"I am very confident that if we proceed as diligently and as quickly as we can, we'll be able to meet the requirements and keep KCPW on the air," he said.
Community Wireless board member Joe Wrona said that if Wasatch Public Media cannot fulfill the financial requirements within 60 days, the FM station will be sold to another buyer. The station this month received a purchase offer of $3.7 million from Christian broadcasting company Educational Media Foundation, based in Rocklin, Calif.
"We felt some obligation to try to go the extra mile and give Wasatch Public media an opportunity to purchase the station and keep it under local control," Wrona said.
Sweeney estimated that the station has about 50,000 listeners, mostly in the Salt Lake metro area. He said his group will make efforts to expand the station's audience and increase its financial support base.
"As president of Wasatch Public Media, I'm going to put all my energy into creating a board, the nonprofit and getting the financing," he said. "We have very competent staff, good hosts, and morale is 100 percent better now with this agreement."
Community Wireless is the parent company of Park City-based NPR affiliate KPCW FM, in addition to KCPW AM and FM in Salt Lake. In January, Community Wireless announced its intention to sell the Salt Lake radio properties in order to focus on KPCW-FM in Park City.
Community Wireless Chairman Bill Mullen said he believed that growth in Summit and Wasatch counties warranted the board's full attention on KPCW in Park City.
Soon after the sale was announced, Wasatch Public Media rallied support from listeners and donors who told the Community Wireless board that they wanted the board to consider Wasatch Public Media's offer.
"It really feels like a weight is off the rank and file," said KCPW news director Lara Jones. "It's just been so uncertain about our future. Now everyone is feeling much more positive about KCPW not just surviving, but thriving."