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KFUO sale wouldn't have to end classical music broadcasting here, says church

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 28, 2009 - Measures are being taken by members of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod to make sure that lovers of classical music on the radio in St. Louis won't miss a beat.

Following a committee report to the synod's board last week on the possible sale of KFUO-FM, the board voted 10-1 to continue discussions on the sale and at the same time pursue options to allow the programming on the station, known as Classic 99, to continue uninterrupted.

Kermit Brashear, an Omaha, Neb., attorney who is shepherding the sale for the synod, said in an interview Friday that he could not give a timetable for when the deal may be struck, but he and a four-member panel will continue working on it and are authorized to complete it when the terms are right.

As reported earlier, Joy FM, which broadcasts contemporary Christian music on two smaller frequencies, has expressed interest in buying the 99.1 spot on the dial now used by KFUO. Brashear, while declining to identify Joy as the prospective purchaser, has said there is a "firm" $18 million offer on the table for the synod's station.

Word that classical music may disappear from the 99.1 frequency alarmed long-time fans of the station. A statement released by the synod on Friday said that in addition to pursuing the sale of the station, Brashear is instructed to "continue to investigate the uninterrupted broadcast of the 99.1 classical format in the St. Louis market."

The mechanism for doing so, he has said, would be through a high-definition signal that would then be translated to the FM band.

Brashear said Friday that he hopes the synod would be able to reach a deal where even if classical music disappears from its current frequency, it could be picked up without interruption on another frequency via the translator.

At some point, he said, paying for that operation may have to eventually be taken over by those who want the format to continue.

"Given the state of technology, which many people are not fully informed about," he said, " I think there's a better than even possibility there can be continuation of the format, at least until those who so highly value it decide whether they want to fully pay for it.

"We have had pleas for continuation, but there have been no economically reasonable offers consistent with our fiduciary responsibility, and there has been no organized moment-to-moment capacity and capability for a handoff."

A synod spokeswoman said that the church had a recent $4.5 million shortfall in revenue that forced it to cut expenses to balance its budget. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, she said, KFUO lost $255,000.

Brashear said that the overwhelming vote by the board to pursue a sale of KFUO shows that "the classical format is not a part of the mission of the church."

"Frankly," he added, "This is a 25-year-old drumbeat that has been going on within the synod. We are an international church body, and except in St. Louis, members wonder why we are engaged in this enterprise."