KUSF is sold out from under its volunteers, and local communities are left reeling
NEWS/MUSIC/CULTURE Anyone who entered University of San Francisco's Presentation Hall the night of Jan.19 was confronted by the signs — literal and figurative — of a participatory approach to media. A sizable number of the almost 500 people packed into the site for a public meeting to discuss the abrupt sale of KUSF were carrying cameras. Other brandished signs, with slogans running the gamut from pointedly angry ("KUSF is Our Radio"; "Shame on USF") to comic ("Suck It").
The scene was a public meeting to discuss KUSF. In a matter of hours the previous morning, the station had gone from a left-of-the-dial college station of 34 years with deep and numerous local community connections, to an online-only operation, its frequency now owned by the USC-affiliated Classical Public Radio Network.
The atmosphere itself was contemporary political — and perhaps religious — theater brought to life, a loud embodiment of scripted and spontaneous dissent regarding education, the changing face and nature of radio and media, and cultural shifts in San Francisco. Before the event got underway, chants of "Community" broke out, and KUSF music director Irwin Swirnoff addressed the crowd in an attempt to ensure the venue's balcony was opened up to people still left outside. As USF faculty arranged a pair of podiums on stage, a call-of-response of "What do we want? Noise rock! When do we want it? Now!" briefly went up from the back of the hall.
Father Stephen A. Privett, the president of the Jesuit university,soon stepped into view, taking a place behind a stage-right podium at some distance from the audience. "Thank you for being here with me this evening," Privett began, before leading those assembled (or some of them) in prayer. "It's very clear to me that there is justifiable anger with the decision I made. I don't anticipate or expect you to agree with me."
The decision Privett referred to and sometimes took full responsibility for was the choice to sell KUSF to CPRN, a move that, brokered by Greg Guy of Patrick Communications, came cloaked in a nondisclosure agreement. He was correct to not expect approval. Privett's initial statement contextualized the $3.8 million sale of the station within his responsibility to provide a "quality education" for USF's students, only a small percentage of which he felt were engaged with the station. "We teach broadcasting, we aren't fundamentally a radio station," Privett said of USF, in one of many assertions that drew jeers from some of the crowd.
The floor was then opened to questions from those assembled, as a school representative kept hold of the microphone. Linda Champagne, a KUSF DJ, was first to speak, holding back emotion as she told Privett that the sale of the station "should have been handled better." Dorothy Kidd, a media studies professor, wanted to know why the decision took place while USF was on break, and the school's faculty and students weren't notified. "If the station is to be a teaching facility, why is the first time I learned about this decision last night?," she asked Privett to roaring applause. "I am a teacher, [and] there are a lot of faculty members who are angry you made that agreement."
LEFT IN THE DARK
KUSF's sudden disappearance from the airwaves has left a void in its wake, and a wide variety of questions and contradictions swirl within it. It's clear that Classical Public Radio Network is "flipping" KUSF's former frequency, 90.3, to the classical music station KDFC (formerly on 102.1 FM), shifting KDFC to noncommercial status. But while USF's Privett claimed that he accepted "the first offer that came across [his] desk" and had not actively put KUSF on the market, on the Jan. 19 installment of KQED's Forum, CPRN Managing Director Brenda Barnes asserted that the company only solicited radio stations that were for sale.