by Tom Finkel
The sale brings to an end years of speculation that the once formidable WGNU was on the auction block. Founded in 1961 by the late Chuck Norman, the talk-heavy station bounced from the AM dial to FM and back to AM during its 46-year run in St. Louis. For a time it was the area’s top-rated station.
Norman died in 2004, leaving ownership of the station to a trust controlled by his attorney, Lisa Krempasky. In recent years Krempasky has been at the center of dozens of lawsuits accusing her of fraudulently duping investors of millions of dollars in real estate schemes. As recently as last September, WGNU did not have enough cash reserves from the trust to meet payroll, according to former employees of the station.
WGNU’s popularity has declined steadily over the years, to the point where it now enjoys a less than 1 percent market share of the St. Louis audience, according to media survey-firm Arbitron. Today the station is perhaps best known for controversial talk-show host (and St. Louis School Board gadfly) Lizz Brown, whose Wake Up Call airs from 6 to 10 a.m. weekdays.
Burt Kaufman, Radio Property Venture’s 75-year-old owner, says he entered negotiations with WGNU two months ago and has yet to decide how he’ll program the station when he takes ownership. He remains mum as to whether he’ll retain the station’s current employees.
Kaufman notes that at 500 watts, WGNU has a much weaker signal than the 50,000-watt tower that broadcasts KXEN. Unlike his Christian talker, however, WGNU comes with an urban demographic of listeners.
“We were aware the station was for sale, and we jumped at the chance to own it,” Kaufman says.