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You are here: Home Contributors GW Bynum "No, no, it's not about the money..." but The Board of Directors is selling KFUO-FM, "Classic 99", anyway.

"No, no, it's not about the money..." but The Board of Directors is selling KFUO-FM, "Classic 99", anyway.

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Have you noticed that when you see the phrase "It's not about the money..." it is almost always about the money? The Board of Directors of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod has voted to sell KFUO-FM, otherwise known as Classic 99, for 26 million (18 million plus interest), to Joy FM, a station that broadcasts "Christian Contemporary Music" and which already has two FM frequencies in the Saint Louis area. But if it's not about the money, why sell an asset that is valuable and difficult to replace?

It is no secret that being "Ablaze", as the leadership in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) styles itself, has not been particularly lucrative for that church body. Of course, being "Ablaze!" (note the official trademark version, with exclamation mark!), as they themselves would tell you, isn't about being lucrative, it's about winning souls for Jesus. They would also say it's "not about brick and mortar", but "growing the church". Perhaps that is why the Board of Directors for the LCMS has this interesting section in their FAQ about the proposed sale of KFUO FM:

Is this sale a sign the LCMS is struggling financially because of the country’s economic decline?

No. This sale is intended to enable the LCMS to pursue new and exciting opportunities in the area of digital communications that can be used to accomplish our mission: In grateful response to God’s grace and empowered by the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacraments, the mission of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is vigorously to make known the love of Christ by word and deed within our churches, communities and the world. Discussions about the possible sale of the station began before the economic downturn occurred.

From http://www.lcms.org/graphics/assets/media/Board_Of_Directors/KFUO-FM%20FAQ.pdf

Or: "It's not about the money. It's about selling something for 24 million. And the Gospel. And missions. And all kinds of other positive sounding things! But not money." Apparently this species of reasoning has become typical for a Church that once was known for its precision and clarity, not only in faithful adherence to the historic doctrine and practice of the Church, but also in other areas. So, toward that end, I would suggest a partial rewrite of this FAQ, along these lines:

Is this sale a sign the LCMS is struggling financially because of the country’s economic decline?

No. The LCMS has been struggling financially for years, long before the present economic decline. In fact, the LCMS saw a continuing drop in giving to the National Synod during the banner years of prosperity from 2005 to 2007. We've been broke for a long time now, because while communicant members of our parishes have been giving more in total, most of that money does not get past the clutches of their local parish and district. So in gratitude to God, we're going to reach the lost by selling an established FM station, and reach more people by using HD Radio. Or podcasts. Or that tweety thing. We'll think of something.

Further on in the FAQ, we learn that HD Radio is, in fact, what is being contemplated:

What about the board’s statement of being committed to providing uninterrupted classical music, as discussed at its August 2009 meeting?

As part of the asset purchase agreement, Joy FM has agreed to purchase high definition broadcast equipment for our use for the next two years. The LCMS is still working out the details of how to provide classical music on the station’s HD channel (99.1-2). The LCMS also is investigating a way to provide classical music at another location on the FM dial.

Which sounds plausible, but seems confused. Why sell one spot on the FM dial and then go through the expense and effort to find another?

The Board also seems to have an inkling that the audience for HD Radio, as compared to FM, is still quite small:

Some people believe HD has little if any future. Is this a viable possibility?

Some experts – and listeners – believe HD radio provides an unrivaled listening experience and that it just has not truly caught on yet. In fact, Microsoft has just launched the first portable media player that combines a built-in HD radio receiver and HD video output capabilities that some are calling revolutionary. While special equipment is required in order to listen to HD radio, the receivers are relatively inexpensive to purchase. There are at least two dozen HD broadcasters in St. Louis already, including KMOX Radio, the leading station in the St. Louis market.

All of which may be true, but beside the point. Would it not be far more effective to keep the regular FM dial position of 99, and then add HD signals to 99.1, 99.2, 99.3? How many listeners, upon discovering the "joys" of "Contemporary Christian Music" on 99 FM, will then seek out the Sacred and Classical music which has fled to the HD frequencies of 99.1, or 99.2?

The sad part may be, as the excellent contributors at The Brothers of John the Steadfast point out (http://steadfastlutherans.org), Joy FM sees the acquisition of FM 99 as a tremendous mission opportunity, where the LCMS's Board of Directors sees just the opposite. Perhaps an equally salient point is that selling valuable assets for cash to fund a financially embarrassed and desperate synod's Ablaze(!) habit is like a crack addict selling everything of value he owns just to get more a few more bags of the white powder. Perhaps both can be healed of their addiction and returned to health and sanity, but what a waste of the "daily bread" God has already given them, and what terrible stewardship.

KFUO FM has had its problems, but this is not a solution. It appears now that the best hope of stopping the sale is to weigh in with the FCC, which has final approval. More information on that to come.

Also See:

Search Term KFUO at The Brothers of John the Steadfast

Saint Louis Today on the petition to save KFUO FM.