Radio radio! - Page 2

As the battle to save KUSF continues, why doesn't SF have an awesome radio station?


Nevertheless, online access isn't a substitute for free radio air waves. "We get the wrong impression that everyone is wired, and everyone's online, and no one listens to terrestrial radio," says radio activist and KFJC DJ Jennifer Waits. "Why then are these companies buying stations for millions of dollars?"

Waits and KALX general manager Sandra Wasson both point to the consolidation that's overtaken commercial radio since deregulation with the Telecommunications Act of 1996 — a trend that has now crept onto the noncommercial end of the dial.

As competition for limited bandwidth accelerates (in San Francisco, this situation is compounded by a hilly topography with limited low-power station coverage) and classical radio stations like KDFC are pushed off the commercial frequencies, universities are being approached by radio brokers. One such entity, Public Radio Capital, was part of the secretive $3.75 million deal to sell KUSF's transmitter and frequency. Similar moves are occurring throughout the U.S., according to Waits. She cites the case of KTXT, the college radio station at Texas Tech, as akin to KUSF's situation, while noting Rice and Vanderbilt universities are also exploring station sales.

"The noncommercial band is following in the footsteps of the commercial band in the way of consolidation," Wasson says, from her paper-crammed but spartan office at KALX, after a tour of the station's 90,000-strong record library. Wire, Ringo Death Starr, and Mountain emanate from the on-air DJ booth, as students prep the day's newscast and a volunteer readies a public-affairs show. "Buying and selling noncommercial radio seems to me very much like what used to happen and still does in commercial radio: one company owns a lot stations in a lot of different markets and does different kinds of programming in different markets. Deregulation changed it so that 10-watt stations weren't protected anymore. There were impacts on commercial and noncommercial sides."

Lack of foresight leads cash-strapped schools to leap for the quick payout. "Once a school sells a station, it's unlikely it will be able to buy one back," says Waits. "Licenses don't come up for sale and there are limited frequencies. They have an amazing resource and they're making a decision that isn't thought-through."



There are still people willing to put imagination — and money — behind their radio dreams. But free-form has come to sound risky after the rise of KSAN and FM radio and the subsequent streamlining and mainstreaming of the format.

Author and journalist Ben Fong-Torres, who once oversaw a KUSF show devoted to KSAN jocks, cites the LGBT-friendly, dance-music-focused KNGY 92.7 as a recent example of investors willing to try out a "restricted" format. "They were a good solid city station that sounded quite loose," he explains. "But even there they weren't able to sell much advertising because they were limited to the demographic in San Francisco and they couldn't make enough to pay their debts."

Nonetheless, Fong-Torres continues to be approached by radio lovers eager to start a great music station. "I've told them what I'm telling you," he says. "It's really difficult to acquire a stick in these parts, to grab whatever best signals there are." This is especially true with USC/KDFC rumored to be on a quest for frequencies south of SF.

"There are some dreamers out there who think about it," muses Fong-Torres. "A single person who's willing to bankroll a station just out of the goodness of his or her heart and let people spread good music — someone like Paul Allen, who did KEXP in Seattle."



And that would be KUSF. Thanks for the article.

Posted by TooManyHipsters on Mar. 09, 2011 @ 7:56 am


We've known each other for a long time and I want to thank you for the best article of all on what is happening to the radio landscape in San Francisco.

After 9 years at KUSF (and 30 in all in professional radio where I survived the Clear Channels, Infinity's and others) this is all really, really scary.

I have been searching for our Paul Allen for years and have found a couple who could, but won't because they know that they will lose money and remember Paul Allen made his investment in a very different economy - it was the boom and we'll not likely see that again in our lifetimes.

So, yes, many of us are on Radio Valencia, or stations in other cities like IndieSF where there is still great radio going on even if you have to work a lot harder to get it!


Dennis The Menace

Posted by Dennis The Menace on Mar. 09, 2011 @ 1:34 pm

Great article, Kimberly Chun, thanks for covering this important story. KUSF was part of the cultural fabric of San Francisco, and there's a terrible hole where it once was. It was the last great thing on the FM dial in SF, and it is sorely missed.

I too have taken refuge online. Pandora is cool, but there's not a lot of new music discovery going on there - mostly catalog stuff from major artists. "Like this and you might like that" style. It has its place. For college radio / old school FM radio deejay style I like - a great little site with playlists curated by mp3 bloggers who basically function the same way that pre-corporate-suckballs FM deejays did. is also good - less curated, more chaos, but I've gotten lucky there too. Only thing missing from all of these is the human voice, back-announcing something you just heard for the first time and want to remember. I miss KUSF!

To get involved helping KUSF come back from the dead, check out:!/SaveKUSF

Long live KUSF! Long live Pirate Cat! Mearrrrrrr

Posted by Guest on Mar. 09, 2011 @ 4:07 pm

...about our free enterprise system and what is you love about Communism so much? Why do you want the gov't to give you everything instead of getting off your lazy butts and working for a living? And why do you hate oridinary people who work for a living and what the majority of the American public likes and why do you want to cram your weirdo Rotting Scabs, Festering Boils and DJ La-Z Bum down the throats of the majority? What part of "majority rule" don't you understand?

And i hope you Communist homsexuals stop infringing on my First Amendment rights and not only post this, but my previous post. What is your problem with free speech and why are you infringing on the rights of the WHITE MALE CHRISTIAN PATRIOT MAJORITY, WHO ARE YOUR SUPERIOR AUTHORITIES AND MUST BE OBEYED AT ALL TIMES?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 10, 2011 @ 8:54 am

I was sad and a little angry about the sub-title of your article: "...why doesn't SF have an awesome (and/or "great") radio station?"; what is not "great" or "awesome" about KPOO and KALW? No radio station is all things to all peeps but both of these deserve mention. KPOO, mentioned in passing, isn’t just "lover's rock", they play a wide range of R&B, soul, rap and jazz. Pretty awesome in my humble opinion, pretty great, too. KALW, which wasn't even mentioned, except as an "NPR station", has great and awesome music programming in addition to local news, intelligent call-in shows and public services, such as the Unified School District's school board meeting. Sure it lacks the hip music KCRW has and KUSF had, unless you count "Bluegrass Signal", "Folk Music and Beyond", "A Patchwork Quilt", "Then and Now", "Music from Other Minds", "Fog City Blues" and probably the best music show ever (again IMHO!), "Tangents"! Okay, maybe not all that hip ('cept for the bluegrass, of course!), but still really good programming! Keep in mind KUSF wasn't always "cutting edge" college music, either. They had all sorts of programs in other languages, orchestral music, review shows. It will surely be missed by a wide but probably not very deep slice of the listening populace. Part of the problem , I think, is few people listen to radio anymore. I very rarely run into someone who knows what KALW or KPOO is or where they could be found, and KALW's been around for 70 years now (longer than KQED!). But to return to my original complaint, I sure would love to see the Bay Guardian keep it’s or it’s reporter’s (what really should be humble) opinions off the front page, but then again I could be called one of them ol’ traditionalist cranks whose first job was delivering a newspaper and remembers “current events” classes, when we were required to cut out a news article and list the Who, What, Why, When and Where (do schools even try to do that anymore?). And who likes the Op/Ed page, and likes it on the last full page of the first section, where it belongs. Just a little humility, please?

Posted by Guest on May. 24, 2011 @ 9:57 pm

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