Tacoma’s Theater District is going to become home to KNKX 88.5 FM radio in a studio shuffle next year that will increase community outreach, local news coverage and live events. The National Public Radio affiliate has broadcast from studios at Pacific Lutheran University since it formed in 1966.
The non-profit radio station is deep into a capital campaign to raise about $6 million to finance studio changes at its Seattle office as well as install all new radio equipment in the C.N. Gardner building at 930 Broadway. The historic building was once the site of Tacoma’s City Hall then the offices of Tacoma’s Daily Ledger and most recently housed a design firm that specialized in playground equipment.
The move is the final step in the radio station’s separation from PLU after community members raised $7 million in just 137 days to buy the station in 2016, when a pending purchase by Seattle’s KUOW was announced only to be withdrawn over criticism of the deal. Local donors then raised the money to buy the station, which meant a name change from KPLU to KNKX and that the station would have to leave the university’s campus by the summer of 2019. The purchase also didn’t include the studio’s broadcasting equipment, which dates back a decade.
“It’s kind of like being a 10-year-old computer,” KNKX President and General Manager Joey Cohn said.
About $1.4 million of the KNKX Next Campaign for $6 million will go toward new recording and broadcast equipment while about $2 million will go toward renovations of the building. About $2 million will go toward new offices in Seattle since its current lease ends in 2020. The remaining $600,000 will go toward capital campaign expenses. It’s a tall order since KNKX is the relatively new station, albeit one with a strong following of dedicated listeners who followed the station’s jazz and news programming during the name change.
“There is urgency because we have less than nine months to move out,” Cohn said, noting that much of the expenses of the move are needed sooner rather than later because they involve equipment and renovations needed to broadcast the programming without interruption. The station, which has the largest signal footprint in Western Washington, must be up and broadcasting in its new home on Broadway by July 1, 2019.
The move will bring more than a change of address for the station. The 7,625-square-foot location on Broadway will enable KNKX to increase its regional news coverage and provide more opportunities for music discovery, storytelling, and compelling civic conversations that will come through partnerships with community groups, particularly with Broadway Center for the Performing Arts. That partnership will use existing venues to live broadcasts featuring regional artists, student groups, and touring jazz and blues artists. KNKX will also use these spaces to convene community discussions on local issues and host events with NPR personalities.
To avoid being pigeonholed into being seen as “just a radio station,” KNKX will also extend its educational outreach by providing South Sound students with opportunities to learn more about the industry through internships in digital, news, music, streaming media and engineering. The broadcast space will have four recording studios that will also be used to boost community engagement and access to equipment to record podcasts such as those offered by Channel 253.
“I don’t think we could have found a better South Sound location,” Cohn said. “It’s in the heart of the community, surrounded by the Pantages and Rialto Theatres, the Tacoma School of the Arts, a beautiful park and the Farmer’s Market, and it’s close to mass transit.”
In Seattle, the station is seeking 10,000 square feet to include a bigger space for live jazz, blues and student performances; and to serve as a public space for storytelling and community conversations about local and regional issues.
“The service KNKX provides to the community is growing and more important now than ever,” Cohn said. “Our future homes will be places where we’ll be able to connect our news and music programs with more people in interesting, entertaining and innovative ways. It’s a way we can give back to the KNKX listeners that saved us, and continue to grow and reach new audiences.”