KEXP to Start Playing Paul Allen Rent

The listener-supported radio station's 10-year free ride comes to an end in 2011.

Ten years after Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen provided KEXP with an infusion of cash and a dollar-a-year lease for its 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, which began in 2001 and included an increase in bandwidth, updated equipment, and a total of $1.6 million in donations. At the start of the commitment from Allen—which included a partnership with his brand-new Experience Music Project—the station changed its 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 budget that reached 40,000–50,000 people a week in 1999 to one with a $4 million budget that reaches 200,000 people a week and hosts more than 500 in-studio performances a year. The expanded reach, particularly online, has helped make the station a nationwide musical tastemaker. It also enabled KEXP to introduce 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 on 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 as KEXP has been trying to secure the Seattle Center's Fun Forest site for a new, greatly expanded home that would include space for public viewings of in-studio performances. In September, an advisory panel passed on KEXP's bid—in favor of a proposed Dale Chihuly museum. But the final word on the Fun Forest's future has yet to come down from the mayor's office. After playing such a critical role the previous time the station needed a new home, Allen has remained curiously silent on KEXP's wish to become EMP's Seattle Center neighbor. David Postman, 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."

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