KNKX builds a new home in downtown Tacoma

KNKX President and General Manager Joey Cohn announced that Pacific Public Media, parent of the non-profit, community-licensed KNKX 88.5 FM, is moving its South Sound home off the campus of Pacific Lutheran University and into Tacoma’s downtown Theatre District. KNKX will occupy space in the historic C.N. Gardner Building at 930 Broadway beginning in the summer of 2019.

“I don’t think we could have found a better South Sound location,” says Cohn. “It’s in the heart of the community, surrounded by the Pantages and Rialto Theatres, the Tacoma School of the Arts, a beautiful park and the Farmer’s Market, and it’s close to mass transit.”

Per the terms of Pacific Lutheran University’s sale of 88.5 to Pacific Public Media in 2016, KNKX must move off the PLU campus by the end of June 2019. The station must be up and broadcasting in its new home by July 1, 2019. The station’s studios have been located on the PLU campus since 1966.  KNKX (and prior to that, KPLU) has also operated studios in Seattle for over 30 years. The station is committed to maintaining dual locations in order to better serve its regional audience. KNKX has the largest signal coverage area of any radio station in Western Washington.

KNKX broadcasting footprint.  Image courtesy of KNKX.
KNKX broadcasting footprint. Image courtesy of KNKX.

The new, 7,625 square foot location in Tacoma enables KNKX to increase its regional news coverage (including housing the station’s South Sound reporter) and provide more opportunities for music discovery, storytelling, and compelling civic conversations. KNKX’s commitment to local music will be enhanced by its partnership with Broadway Center for the Performing Arts, through the use of their existing venues for live broadcasts featuring regional artists, student groups, and touring jazz and blues artists. KNKX will also use these spaces to convene community discussions on local issues and host events with NPR personalities.

KNKX will extend its educational outreach by providing South Sound students opportunities to learn and grow through internships in digital, news, music and engineering. In addition, the station will hire an Education and Community Manager to work with youth and underserved communities on media and storytelling training, to bring more diverse voices to the fore.

The KNKX Next Campaign–the next chapter in the station’s story of independence–is now under way to raise money for renovation of the new Tacoma space, moving, updating station technology and expanding programming. The campaign is simultaneously raising funds to expand KNKX’s Seattle studios. The Seattle lease expires in June 2020.  In Seattle, the station is seeking 10,000 square feet to include a bigger space for live jazz, blues and student performances; and to serve as a public space for storytelling and community conversations. Combined costs for KNKX’s new homes in Tacoma and Seattle, upgraded technology and expanded service are an estimated $6 million.

Cohn says, “The service KNKX provides to the community is growing and more important now than ever. Our future homes will be places where we’ll be able to connect our news and music programs with more people in interesting, entertaining and innovative ways. It’s a way we can give back to the KNKX listeners that saved us, and continue to grow and reach new audiences.”

About the historic C.N. Gardner Building

The site of KNKX’s new South Sound home has a rich history. The mid-block section of Broadway was once the site of Tacoma’s first City Hall. In the late 1800’s, it was home to the newspaper, The Ledger. From in front of the property the eccentric newspaper man George Francis Train launched and ended his around the world journey in 67 days in 1890, inspiring the fictitious character Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days.

In 1904, C.N. Gardner purchased a lot on Broadway, just south of the Tacoma Theater. The city’s sprawling uptown theatre district was attracting a large audience for classical music, opera and formal theatre and by 1900 no less than four new theatres were built in the vicinity, spawning a large pool of locally-based musicians and performers. Gardner entered into a partnership with the operator of Tacoma’s largest musical instrument and sheet music business and they hired the highly-regarded regional architect George Wesley Bullard. The three-story building that resulted housed a musical instrument display area, a conservatory for teaching, rooms devoted to the Victor machine and listening to recordings, and apartments for “suitable tenants of a musical interest.” In a newspaper article marking the opening of the building in 1907, the headline referred to the new structure as “the largest, most thoroughly equipped music house in the Northwest…with ample accommodations for every phase of the musical business.” (1*)

KNKX will build broadcast control and production rooms, offices and a “living room” for concerts and gatherings. The new home will be a base of operations for KNKX’s South Sound reporting, live music and music education. KNKX’s new home in the C.N Gardner building will mark a return to the musical, journalistic and community roots of one of Tacoma’s historic sites.



(1*)   Michael Sullivan, Tacoma Register of Historic Places Nomination Form, 2000.

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