I originally wrote this last September after the purchase of KSWD Los Angeles, but after today’s purchase of 97.9 WLUP Chicago it bears repeating. EMF is just taking advantage of the weaknesses of the remainder of those capable of buying radio stations in this current landscape.
Some have likened them to Star Trek’s Borg, others to Star Wars’ Galactic Empire. As Educational Media Foundation assimilates radio stations into its collective leaving nothing but a transmitter in its wake many have begun to wonder how they got to this point and how to stop them.
To look at how EMF has gotten to this point you have to first look back to where they came from. What would become the national “K-Love” brand started out in Middletown/Santa Rosa CA in 1982 as “FM 92 KCLB“. The K-Love brand and new KLVR call letters would come in 1988 as would translators expanding the station’s coverage to other markets surrounding the San Francisco Bay Area such as Monterey and San Jose. Expansion to other markets would begin in the middle of the 1990s bringing K-Love to places like Oklahoma City, Phoenix, and Portland. The group’s first big acquisition would be what is now 91.1 KLDV Morrison/Denver CO and its network of two additional stations and eighteen translators from Colorado Christian University for $16.6 million in 2000. The 2003 translator filing window would bring 250 new licenses for EMF to utilize or eventually lease out in deals to help feed other markets.
Educational Media Foundation’s business model portends well to constant expansion. Multiple federal rules allow EMF to take advantage of loopholes that commercial operators do not have the opportunity to do so. As a non-profit EMF can take advantage of tax credits and loopholes. The networks take on the majority of their revenue through listener donations and as the group expands to more markets that brings more potential listeners and donors. With the main-studio waiver that each EMF license holds, the local stations do not exist as anything more than a rack of equipment at the translator site as programming currently all comes from a pair of locales. They don’t need to have a local studio or maintain local staffing cutting down costs.
Propublica lists EMF’s tax records for 2011 through 2015. Over those five years, total revenue has increased each year as EMF continues to grow. In 2011 EMF’s net income was $34,678,623. By 2015 that increased to $57,217,989 (or pretty much the amount just paid to Entercom for KSWD Los Angeles). Of the $167,459,850 in total contributions EMF received in 2015, 84 percent was invested directly into the business through operating costs and further acquisitions.
For that growth to continue EMF must continue to expand. The only places left for that to happen are in the biggest markets. EMF owns the “K-Love” trademark in most of the country, however areas including and surrounding Dallas, Houston, and Los Angeles were excluded due to grandfathered stations already using the brands in those markets. Two of those still exist: CBS Radio Classic Hits 98.7 KLUV Dallas and Univision Spanish AC 107.5 KLVE Los Angeles. Univision has yet to reach out to our request for information regarding EMF’s impending expansion into Los Angeles. In those three markets EMF’s secondary Christian CHR “Air 1” brand does operate on rimshot stations.
Since the 2007 economic downturn and the financial difficulties facing the largest radio group owners, companies like EMF are the only ones with the money to reach the asking prices of sellers. This has led to many heritage stations like WABB Mobile, WCCC Hartford, and most recently WBRU Providence being acquired by EMF. The combination of loopholes they used combined with the shrewd operation and quality programming bringing in listeners and turning them into donors is what allows EMF to continue to grow at the rate it has. It’s not evil it’s simply best suited to take advantage of the current circumstances facing other radio station operators.