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Classical music radio station KFUO explores possible sale

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 24, 2009 - The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is exploring the possible sale of KFUO-FM, a move that could leave the St. Louis area without a classical music radio station for the first time in more than 60 years.

David Strand, executive director of communications for the synod, which is based in Kirkwood, stressed that the exploration has been ongoing for a year and no decision is imminent. He said the synod is "reviewing its ministry and exploring opportunities concerning the station according to the best principles of Christian stewardship."

There is no deadline for a decision, he said. "It all comes down to weighing our options."

If the station is sold, he said, "it would be the earnest wish of the synod" that KFUO's tradition of classical music continue. But, he added, he couldn't say whether any such conditions could be part of a sale.

Strand said that the station is financially self-sustaining.

"It is a commercial station," he said. "We have a dedicated advertising sales staff, and they work really hard. Some years we break even, and some years we make a little profit, which is typically used to subsidize our AM sister station, which is a gospel talk station."

At this time, Strand said, a possible sale of KFUO-AM "doesn't seem to be part of the equation. It's an overt gospel ministry, which is more what the church is about."

While no sale of KFUO-FM appears imminent, a briefing on the process this week for employees at the station brought the possibility of the end of the station's long-running dedication to classical music to the forefront.

Dennis Stortz, who has been there since 1975 and is currently its director of broadcast operations, said the size of the station's audience has been steady over the past several years, at 125,000-150,000 individuals each week. Membership in its Circle of Friends organization also has been steady, at around 1,000. The audience for its broadcasts online is growing, which Stortz attributes to the quality of its programming.

To Stortz, such figures show a constancy and a dedication to the area's only classical music station that he hopes can continue. "The station is iconic in the St. Louis region," he said.

He was hesitant to talk about the ongoing exploration of a possible sale because he doesn't want to make it sound as if the station is about to shut down tomorrow. "There is no 'for sale' sign up there," he said.

But even though a decision may be off in the future and nothing may change, he says the loyal following of KFUO would find the end hard to imagine.

"It would be pretty emotional for the St. Louis community," Stortz said.

Jim Connett, the station's program director, also has concerns about future ownership and audience.

"I would suspect and hope there may be some interest in town that would keep it local," Connett said, "and I would hope there would be interest in town that would keep it classical. However, I have no call or say about that. That is the wishful thinking of a program director of classical music."

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