KNKX, the little radio station that could

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

By any measure, the trajectory of KNKX has been beyond description.

The station associated with 88.5 on the FM dial started in 1966 as a standard low-wattage student operated campus radio station owned and operated by PLU and had a range of about two miles.

As out-dated equipment wore out, it was replaced by newer and better equipment. New equipment (and changing FCC requirements) demanded better (and more) broadcasting towers and translators.

Fortuitous circumstances and administrative vision allowed the purchase of towers being disposed of by other agencies and, over the years, the broadcasting “footprint” of KPLU expanded from Victoria, BC to Vancouver, Washington and westward to Aberdeen and beyond.

In 2016, a deal between PLU and the University of Washington fell through (1*) and over 18,000 listeners and supporters were able to gather over $7 million in 137 days to buy the station which is now known as KNKX.

KUOW, the UW station that hoped to absorb KPLU (and its coverage footprint), describes itself as a “self-sustaining service of the University of Washington” – which means that every staff member of KUOW is an employee of the University of Washington – and a state employee.

KNKX, on the other hand, defines itself as “your independent radio station” – which means that every staff member of KNKX is employed by – KNKX.

KNKX, not bound by any university, business or agency and is accountable only to its board and its listeners.

The new location cements KNKXs within the ever-expanding exploration of the arts represented by The Broadway Center, SOTA and Tacoma’s premier museums and art centers.

With a ten year lease, and an option for twenty years after that, KNKX has reaffirmed its presence in the South Sound in a way no one could have imagined just a few years ago.

Expanding from a tiny campus station to a world wide presence is remarkable by any standard.

A partial view of KNKX's CD collection. Photo: Morf Morford
A partial view of KNKX’s CD collection. Photo: Morf Morford

News, music and community engagement will continue to take new forms as our community – and the ways we express ourselves and face our challenges also changes.

The generation known as “digital natives” uses media very differently from previous generations. Online and on-demand (like podcasts) will redefine the “radio” experience in the future.

KNKX defies itself as “the radio station that listens back.” Only time will tell where that conversation will take us.

You can see – or visit – the new building at 930 Broadway – right across from the Broadway Center’s Theatre on the Square.


(1*)   Which is a nice way of saying that the deal became public and listener response was immediate, passionate and unrelenting.

Related Stories