Thursday, February 16, 2017



Like a death in the family, news of the sale of Cincinnati’s WNKU spread quickly around the public radio Triple A community. Everybody knew that the station was on the block but still the end of WNKU seemed sudden and sad.

WNKU will remain on the air until the sale is approved by the FCC.  Of course, this makes the remaining WNKU staff “dead people walking” for their final weeks. On the right is WNKU’s GM Aaron Sharpe’s message to listeners and the Triple A community.

Now comes the news that WNKU’s licensee, Northern Kentucky University (NKU) had a lifeline that could have preserved the station and gotten the university off the hook financially. According to John Kiesewetter, media reporter for Cincinnati Public Radio (CPR), CPR had offered NKU a Local Management Agreement to operate the station and take full responsibility for its operating finances.

A senior manager at CPR who requested not to be named, confirmed that such an offer had been made to NKU President Geoffrey Mearns. Means ignored it because apparently he had already made up his mind to sell. His rationale was to get the debt for a $6.7 million dollar loan from NKU to WNKU for the 2011 purchase of three commercial frequencies in Portsmouth and Middletown, Ohio, off the university’s books.

CPR has an established track record of success.  They have been managing WMUB, Oxford, Ohio, successfully since 2009 via such an agreement. Rich Eiswerth and company at CPR are considered among the best operators in the public radio system.

KEN SAYS: The reason all this happened is that WNKU was own by an “accidental broadcaster.”  Northern Kentucky University, like many universities, got into the radio business when the risk was low and cash was more plentiful. Until the recently, NKU didn’t pay much attention to WNKU.

For instance, NKU failed to do its due diligence on the purchase of three commercial frequencies in Portsmouth and Middletown, Ohio, for $6.7 million in 2011. Had NKU seriously reviewed the plan by then WNKU GM Chuck Miller, they would have seen its was flawed. As “accidental broadcasters,” NKU rubber-stamped Miller’s proposal. I’d call it benign neglect.

The reason I bring this up is because there are plenty of other “accidental broadcasters” in the public radio system.  As my friend Neil Best, GM of KUNC/KJAC, once said:

“At a university licensee you are one vice president away from oblivion.”


NKU President Geoffrey Mearns is on his way Muncie. He will become President of Ball State University later this year.  Ball State is the licensee of WBST and Indiana Public Radio, a regional network covering central Indiana. According to disclosure documents on WBST’s website, the state of Indiana provided around $50,000 in funds to WBST in FY 2015.  This is much less support than what WNKU has been receiving from the state of Kentucky. But, Means insincere approach to saving WNKU demonstrates Means lack of appreciation for public media and the potential for cuts at WBST.


Grady Kirkpatrick was the Program Director of WNKU from 1998 until 2007.  He is now PD of Wyoming Public Media and host of Wyoming Sounds, a Triple A day-part on the statewide network.

Grady Kirkpatrick
It’s the end of an era for Cincinnati radio with the sale of WNKU.

The city has a quite a rich history in broadcasting including “The Big One” news/talk station WLW, 70’s progressive/ AOR rocker WEBN and the disbanded “Future of Rock N Roll” WOXY repeated often in the movie Rainman.  Don’t forget “I’m living on the air in Cincinnati” from the TV sitcom station… WKRP.

WNKU started late 80’s as Kentucky Folk Radio at Northern KY University across the Ohio and just south of Cincinnati in Highland Heights.

The station provided music, specialty shows and NPR news carrying both Morning Edition and All Things Considered until it went all music about seven years ago. At that time, NPR news magazines were also on WVXU. WVXU switched to an all news format in 2005 when Xavier University sold the station to Cincinnati Public Radio.  

WNKU “the natural alternative” became a mainstay for listeners and music fans bored with mainstream radio.  The station was an early adopter to the Triple A. Over time WNKU embraced the “music discovery” brand.

The station had an incredible collection of passionate and talented DJ’s combined with a great support staff and the financial backing of Northern KY University.  The station became part of the fabric of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky hosting live music in Studio 89, co-sponsoring concerts and events and most importantly playing and promoting the many talented musicians in the region past and present.

I have great memories from my time at WNKU.  Met a lot of great folks and enjoyed Cincinnati/ Northern Kentucky immensely.

Best to my friends at WNKU. We’ll miss the sound and vibe.

Grady Kirkpatrick
(WNKU Program Director-1998-2007)



  1. As a person deeply involved in LMA's at RIPR, and having worked with one at WEOS, I sympathize with WNKU's plight but I'm not as sanguine about how CPR's offer of LMA'ing was a true "lifeline".

    When you're a license-holder, the onus is still on you for everything. Sure, CPR might've assumed all the costs but it's nevertheless a lot of work for NKU to maintain legal compliance. Plus WNKU had an awful lot of debt. That debt creates optics that are difficult to manage when the University is fundraising for other needs. "Hey, you wasted $6 million on that stupid radio station, why should I give you $1 million for that new chemistry lab you want?"

    If CPR were expressly offering to *purchase* WNKU in a "lease to own" arrangement that involved an LMA over, say, three or five years to give CPR time to raise the money to make the final purchase? That might be a somewhat different story. Even then, though, I can't really blame NKU for just wanting to get out of the game.


    Update info - WFPK is interested too

  3. FWIW, I'm a little surprised that NKU and WNKU didn't at least attempt to pull a KPLU/KKNX? I readily concede that was a rare success story, but it should give hope to any station that has a strong following, and any parent college that just wants to get out of the game, that you CAN raise a ton of money in short order if the conditions are right.