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KFUO: end of a St. Louis treasure?

It was in the late 1940s when the row houses along South Broadway across from the future Busch Stadium were scheduled for demolition. One of the units at the end of the block was the Eugene Field House where the author had written his famous children's stories, a place worthy of preservation.

When he learned of the plans to raze the building, Irving Dilliard, editor of the editorial page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, launched a campaign to save the historic site. Few thought he could garner enough public support, but he did and while the rest of the block was leveled, the Field House survived and remains as one of St. Louis' enduring treasures. Such endeavors have not always been successful.

I came to St. Louis 40 years ago and along with being a Presbyterian minister, did stints at radio and television stations and wrote op-ed pieces in the Post. For my listening pleasure, I set my dial on 99.1, where it has played night and day for years. The station has not only provided cultural enrichment but an immersion in the history of classical music.

KFUO-FM began broadcasting in St. Louis in 1948. It is one of the oldest FM stations west of the Mississippi River. Its studios are on the campus of Concordia Seminary in Clayton and owned by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. The format of KFUO has been classical music and across six decades the station has been a cultural bridge in the community, keeping patrons informed about the arts and humanities, the Zoo, the Symphony, the Botanical Gardens, the Art Museum, Opera Theatre, the stage and dance.

And while I never met them personally, thanks to KFUO I know David Robertson, music director of the Symphony and the opera star Christine Brewer. I have loved Classic Kids, Joy, and Saturday live performances of the Symphony, the Metropolitan Opera and Sunday at the Garden. There is no way to put a premium on a treasure. The late William Woo, editor of the Post, said that inspiration for his writing came while listening to KFUO and Mozart.

When word came that KFUO was being sold to a Christian radio company, I was shocked. I could not believe that the Missouri Synod would do such a thing to the community. The requiem for the station means that we will have no fashion that brings the community together. The Synod has broken faith with St. Louis.

No public bidding for the franchise was offered and a gag order has been placed on the station's personnel. It was a privately done deal for several million dollars. The Federal Communications Commission must approve the transaction. A petition is on file with the federal agency protesting the secretive transaction. Insiders contend that it is all over and nothing can be done but lament the loss.

We do not need nor do we want another Christian broadcasting enterprise. And I wonder why the wealthy gentry has not used its influence to thwart the sale. More than that, where is the Post-Dispatch and the spirit of Irving Dilliard to arouse public opinion?

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Title Annotation:off the record
Author:Tabscott, Robert W.
Publication:St. Louis Journalism Review
Geographic Code:1U4MO
Date:Jan 1, 2010
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