Ending months of turmoil and confusion at public radio station KPCC-FM (89.3), the board of trustees of Pasadena City College voted unanimously Wednesday night to turn over operation of the station to Minnesota Public Radio, which intends to triple the budget and turn it into a major, in-depth local news outlet.
The agreement becomes effective Jan. 1 and provides for a six-month transition, during which KPCC will begin hiring up to 10 reporters and producers.
Larry Mantle, program director for KPCC and host of the weekday afternoon show "AirTalk"--who last May had threatened to quit and take staffers with him if the deal with Minnesota Public Radio fell through--said Thursday: "I'm elated. This is wonderful news."
Programming details remain to be ironed out, but Mantle said KPCC will have a different approach than other local broadcast outlets. "The big difference is that [reporters] will have much more air time," he said. "It will be an NPR [National Public Radio]-style of in-depth news of local issues. And 'local' will include Sacramento. We'll be paying serious attention to the state legislature. Whether that will mean a reporter there, this is so new, we don't know."
"Clearly, the emphasis will be on news and 'intelligent talk,' " he added, invoking KPCC's slogan. "I don't know what kind of a music presentation we will have. I wouldn't be surprised if there are no programming changes for a couple of months. Nothing is [presently] on the chopping block."
The lease agreement is for 15 years, with each side having the right of review after five years, according to officials for the college, which will continue to hold KPCC's license, and Minnesota Public Radio. With escalating contributions starting at $2 million July 1, and going up to $4.4 million in the fifth year, Minnesota will kick in $15.7 million in the first five years. That's nearly $3 million more than had initially been proposed.
Moreover, through a newly created entity, Southern California Public Radio, 25 staff positions will be added, including news, development and marketing personnel. Existing staff will be retained.
Mantle said that Bill Buzenberg, vice president for news and information of Minnesota Public Radio, will have overall responsibility for hiring of the news staff, but indicated that he would have input. "I'm not going anywhere. I think it's going to be a team approach."
James Kossler, president of Pasadena City College, also voiced delight with the agreement. He noted that while the college currently provides rent-free facilities to KPCC, it does not specifically fund the station, and that the normal sources of listener contributions and underwriting will continue to help pay expenses. Currently KPCC has a $1.2-million annual budget, he said.
William Kling, chief executive of Minnesota Public Radio and the interim president of Southern California Public Radio, said in a statement: "Rarely have we seen an opportunity with the potential of this one. KPCC at 89.3 has a first-class signal heard from San Diego County to Santa Barbara County. The talent base of Los Angeles is one of the most creative in the world. The station will be able to provide the kind of depth and analysis that public radio is known for, to both local and state stories as well as national and international stories."
The station has more than 300,000 listeners a week.
Warren Weber, a college trustee who was on the subcommittee dealing with the Minnesota agreement, said it was time for the college to back out of the radio business. "We felt that the station had grown to the point that it needed professional management, and the school is in the education business and not in the radio business."