KFUO-AM and KFUO-FM, by Mollie

Until I served on the Board for Communication Services, I wasn’t actually aware of the profound difference between the AM and FM stations. Not only is the FM station more or less secular, but it also has the vast majority of staff and resources allocated for it.

I know people I respect who have supported the sale of the FM station and I know people who I respect who have opposed the sale of the FM station. Unlike almost any other issue on the planet, I can see merit in both arguments. It’s an issue where confessional Lutherans aren’t united. Neither are the big church growthers. One of those advocating for the sale of FM is Synodical Treasurer Tom Kuchta.

For years, BCS Executive Director David Strand characterized Kuchta’s position to the board as a desire to sell both the AM and FM stations. We invited him to come speak to us at a meeting and found that he was a huge advocate of the AM station, where Issues, Etc. and other programs aired. And he did believe that the FM station should be sold since he felt that the asset could be better utilized by the Synod. He even told us that if the FM station became more Lutheran, he would feel differently.

Many of us were surprised because this was so different than the image we’d been given.

Anyway, I thought of all this when I read this quote in a recent story about the possible sale of the FM station.

“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.”

It appears Strand understands the distinction between the two stations after all.

Also, for those interested in this debate, you will want to read Dr. Uwe Siemon-Netto’s blog post on the matter. He is a strong advocate for holding KFUO-FM.


KFUO-AM and KFUO-FM, by Mollie — 24 Comments

  1. Mollie,

    It seems simple. Classic 99 is an unprofitable local commercial station with a pop-classical format. The fact that the station is owed by the LCMS doesn’t make its programming Lutheran. Few of its listeners in St. Louis even know who owns the station.

    Classic 99 serves only the St. Louis area. For the LCMS, that may benefit the synodical elite; but not the entire synod.

    If the Central-West-Enders, symphony-goers and arts community leaders in St. Louis want to keep classical music on the air in the Gateway City, why don’t they put their money where their mouths are, and buy Classic 99 from the LCMS? It would be pocket change for them, even in this economy.


  2. I spent all of my day at work yesterday listening to Classic 99 online. I truly enjoyed their playlist and there were regular announcements that the station was operated by the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. This classical station is excellent and far better than our CBC Radio 2 classical station here. It is so hard to find a station that plays this type of music and KFUO FM is one of the best that I have found. I tuned in because of all that I heard about it and I wanted to see for myself what it offered. Its a good listen. I am sad that it has fallen into this political debate. Again, it is worth repeating that this station puts our Canadian Broadcasting Company’s station to shame. (I am a member of the Lutheran Church – Canada and grew up in the LCMS.)

  3. Marcy,

    You wrote, “I spent all of my day at work yesterday listening to Classic 99 online.”

    Good, but you actually make the case for selling Classic 99.

    Classic 99’s radio signal only reaches the St. Louis area. Classic 99’s live, online stream goes out to the entire Internet.

    But, you don’t have to own and operate a radio station to stream live 24 hour classical music, do you? No. Not at all.

    In fact, the LCMS could stream the very same playlist that Classic 99 uses now (without commercial interruption) automated, from one computer at the International center. Someone could voice-track the song introductions. It’s cheap and requires one-tenth the employees.

    You would still hear the same great classical music online.

    Think about it: All the same great classical music you love, online, without commercials, brought to you by the LCMS, for a fraction of the cost to the Church. The best of both worlds. It sounds like fiscal responsibility to me.

    You don’t have to own and operate a whole radio station (18 full-time employees, a $3 million budget) to stream classical music to the Internet.


  4. I’m interested in Strand’s statement, “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.”

    Correct me if I’m wrong, Todd, but as I understood it, it was mainly KFUO AM that ended up subsidizing the FM station.

  5. revgeorge,

    You are wrong. AM is a very tiny station, with no sales staff or even dedicated fundraising staff. FM has tons of salespeople and development officials. They should be operating at a huge profit if they’re going to be commercial — for the purpose of funding AM. They’re not. It’s a horribly mismanaged station, in my oversight experience.

  6. So, would re-working the staff and management with radio pros be a possiblilty. It could, run well, actually make money on a consistent basis. There musb be real live Lutheran radio guys and gals out there with the mass secular lay offs.

  7. It is very cold here. When I was listening yesterday the temp. here was -12C that is 10F and although it was cold for St. Louis at 24F – it sure sounded warm to me. We have two seasons here – warm and very cold. Or to put it another way, we have two months of very poor sledding.

  8. Marcy,

    I’d be happy to send you a daily weather report from St. Louis — for free.


  9. Through Issues, Etc. I have come to love and respect Dr. Siemon-Netto as a “senior statesman” in our church. It grieves me to disagree with him on anything.

    But, The LC-MS is a national institution with a global outreach. Why should we maintain a radio station solely for the benefit of those within the St. Louis metropolitan area? His position seems a little parochial to me.

    Here in New York, I can get Bach into my iPod in any number of ways that have nothing to do with the LCMS. I think TW is right on in his analysis of this situation.

  10. Matt,

    Yes, the definition of parochial.

    And equating the sale of Classic 99 with blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? The the definition of overstating the case.


  11. I am more interested in preserving my grandfather’s theology, not his technology. I think the BOD should look at selling both AM and FM stations. I don’t get KFUO in Ohio, so I have no idea what is broadcast. Classical music can be gotten through other means than KFUO. Issues, Etc has shown us that podcasting and internet broadcasting is a viable alternative to radio.

    These radio stations should be sold and the proceeds go to support the seminaries.

  12. It either needs to go or be totally overhauled on the business side. If it can be run at a consistent and fairly large profit then keep it and use the money to fund anything but Ablaze! If not sell it. Breaking even is not good enough. Assets tied up in “breaking even” are not beneficial. Even in this economy you could manage the cash raised from a sale of these assets at a profit.

  13. Marcy, Google “weather St Louis MO” 🙂

    Classical music for St Louis is nice, but not the reason we belong to synod.

    Reading that “pap” from CSL, I wonder again why we do belong to synod!

  14. The point of my comment was that the station is very good. It is a top notch classical radio station. If it can turn a profit then keep it. I listened to the station for 2 days now and the listeners do know that it is operated by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod as it is stated on the hour by an announcer. If you listen you will hear that it is from the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. It is a good listen. If it can be profitable then it should be allowed to air. (I live in Canada. I listen online. I grew up in Ohio – listen to the station – it is worth the listen – go online – you have a computer) Say what you will – talk money all you want – it will not change the fact that this is a good station, it properly identifies its self as from the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

    At this point in time – for me – this is one of the good things Synod has going for it. BUT it all boils down to money. AND money talks.

  15. Marcy,

    The on-the-hour mentions of the LCMS are very recent.

    I suspect (but do not know) that their introduction is among the many last minute attempts to say, “Hey, Classic 99 is a Lutheran station!”

    It’s very similar to the way Classic 99 management used to send out a memo to increase the sacred music when the LCMS Board of Directors were meeting in St. Louis (true story).


  16. Marcy,

    You wrote, “The point of my comment was that the station is very good. It is a top notch classical radio station.”

    But, as I wrote before (comment #3), you don’t have to own and operate a whole radio station (18 full-time employees, a $3 million budget) to stream classical music to the Internet.

    The LCMS could stream the very same playlist that Classic 99 uses now (without commercial interruption) automated, 24/7, from one computer at the International center.


  17. I am a life-long KFUO listener and loyal fan who has lived in St. Louis my entire life. My perspective about the KFUO furor is quite different from other commentators on this forum.

    FYI, most of the broadcast classical music in the US comes from NPR-affiliated stations…tax-supported, “not-for-profit” stations headquartered at universities, using band-width that was reserved specifically for THEM. It is my understanding that there are only twenty “commercial” classical stations in the entire country. One of our local NPR stations dropped ALL classical music twenty-five years ago, while the other plays jazz part of the time.

    The KFUO staff and announcers are all “professional” radio people…they are not wannabee volunteers who don’t know the business end of the industry. The station just gets better and better every year.

    A few years ago, KFUO won the “Marconi Award” for being the #1 classical station in the country…and it has been nominated (by a national board) on several occasions.

    Anyone who has ever really listened to KFUO-FM surely MUST know that it is owned by the LCMS…the station has broadcast that affiliation regularly for as long as I can remember! If people really don’t know that, they must have been listening to a different station.

    RE: its only being available “in St. Louis,” I have listened to broadcasts in my car while traveling hundreds of miles away.

    “Playing music” is just part of what KFUO does as a vital part of the arts community! It regularly features studio interviews with local cultural organizations and visiting artists, it broadcasts live from cultural events, and it sponsors events that promote young performers. Two guys streaming “automated music” on the web do not make a radio station!

  18. Oh, thank you Ann! I was born in Saint Louis, was baptized in a North County Lutheran Church and cannot believe what I’m reading here. I will make no secret that I love KFUO, and think it is one of the beautiful things about this city.

    I was so discouraged reading this forum! First off, yes, at least every hour the station says it’s owned by “the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod”. There’s no way anybody who listens to the station for more than fifty five minutes doesn’t know who owns it. Second, yes, the station does so much more than play classical music. It supports the local arts community, it exposes people to the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, a world-renowned orchestra which is traveling to Carnegie Hall in New York this week, that needs the support and the PR. It supports local musicians, artists, etc. Finally, it broadcasts a service every week on Sunday mornings on the FM band. I’m not sure that any other station on the FM band in Saint Louis does that.

    My word, those “Central West Enders”… does anyone think that they might need their feet washed, too? Jesus didn’t only preach the Gospel, he also fed the 5,000. If I were a secular person, I probably wouldn’t tune into a station which only plays sermons and church music 24/7. Witnessing to people, loving people sometimes requires meeting them in the mission field, in the world, where they normally frequent. As Christians we are commanded to live in the world.

    And goodness. I read further, are these Christians talking about firing people because computers can do their jobs for free? Doesn’t the church want to give people jobs and make them feel useful serving the community? Shouldn’t people, staff be rewarded for their years of dedication to this station? Shouldn’t its listeners, many of whom are LCMS, many of whom are not, be loved? Isn’t that the second Greatest Commandment?

    If only we could live our lives and hear these words: Matthew 25:34ff.

  19. Anyone interested in saving our classical music station 99.1FM?
    Let’s get together and try.

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