According to Arbitron, KUSF's 3,000-watt basement transmitter is able to reach an audience of about 50,000, and luckily the station has managed to allocate part of its shoestring budget to broadcasting via the Internet radio network Live365.com, enabling listeners worldwide to tune in even if they're beyond the reach of the transmitter. Still, the consumer landscape has changed radically since the station debuted. From the erosion of the major-label hierarchy to the digital explosion of the past decade, people are now drowning in musical options ranging from iTunes to DIY podcasts to satellite radio.
What lures the KUSF faithful through this technological glut is the content and, ultimately, the DJs who provide it. The cultural programming alone is enough to intrigue: where else in the country does the Hamazkayin Armenian Hour run back-to-back with I Heart Organics? New-music programming is no less varied, as DJs are required to pull half of their shows from the "currents" section of the library. While listening to Jacob Felix Heule's show, which runs Wednesdays from midnight to 3 a.m., I hear dub combo African Head Charge, '60s pop chanteuse Lesley Gore, and local band Rubber O Cement within 30 minutes. It's the kind of schizophrenic genre jumping that has created the reputation KUSF enjoys today.
The station's history lives on in the current new-music staffers. Every volunteer with an air shift has a story about a predecessor who introduced them to band X or taught them how to perform board function Y. Swirnoff, for example, first learned of the station after Sonic Youth cut a record in memory of then-music director Jason Knuth, and he remembers thinking, "I gotta get on KUSF." Jet says her station hero is legendary Rampage Radio's Ron Quintana the guy who named Metallica.
As a former DJ and ex<\d>promotions director, I recall an on-air mentor who would gesture toward Slayer's Decade of Aggression, admonishing me to "always end with something apocalyptic." I'd follow her advice right here, but with volunteers who give so selflessly to keep the station alive, there's a good chance that at least for now KUSF will keep the end times at bay.<\!s>*
KUSF'S 30TH ANNIVERSARY BENEFIT
With Yo La Tengo, Citay, and KUSF DJ Irwin
Fri/3, 9 p.m., $25 (available through www.KUSF.org)
Bimbo's 365 Club
1025 Columbus, SF