Ten years after Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen provided KEXP with an infusion of cash and a dollar-a-year lease for their space in South Lake Union, the listener-supported station will begin paying rent on the building, owned by Allen's Vulcan Inc., in January.
The change coincides with the end of the billionaire's 10-year financial commitment to the station that began in 2001, and included an increase in bandwidth, updated equipment, and a total of $1.6 million in donations. At the time of the commitment from Allen--which included a partnership with his brand new Experience Music Project--the station changed their call letters from KCMU to KEXP.
KEXP executive director Tom Mara says Allen's contributions have helped transform KEXP from a station with a $250,000 annual operating reaching between 40 and 50,000 people a week in 1999 to one with a $4 million operating budget reaching 200,000 people a week, and hosting more than 500 in-studio performances a year. The expanded reach -- particularly online -- has helped make the station a musical tastemaker around the country. It also allowed KEXP to introduced listeners around the world to Seattle bands like Death Cab for Cutie, Band of Horses, and Fleet Foxes, who have gone on to become mainstays in the national indie-rock scene."Keep in mind that at the time (of the agreement) the station was operating out of the basement in (UW's) Kane Hall," Mara says. "We actually had somebody attach wheels to my desk so we could roll it out of my office so bands could play live on the air."
Mara says KEXP will have no problem coming up with the funds to cover rent.
"The ability for KEXP to pay this lease or a lease somewhere else is something we've been planning for," he says, "and we've got the, quote, 'bandwidth,' to manage effectively."
The increase in rent comes at the same time that KEXP has been trying to secure the Fun Forest site at the Seattle Center for a new, greatly expanded home that would include space for public viewings of their in-studio performances. An advisory panel passed on KEXP's bid in favor of a proposed Dale Chihuly museum in September. But the final word on the future of the Fun Forest has yet to come down from the mayor's office.
After playing such a critical role the last time the station needed a new home, Allen has remained curiously silent on KEXP's wishes to become EMP's neighbor at the Seattle Center. David Postman, the spokesperson for Allen's Vulcan Inc., said neither the company nor Allen had any comment on KEXP's bid.
"Vulcan is not going to take a position on that," he says. "Paul has obviously been a great supporter to KEXP and I expect he will remain so."