Radio radio! - Page 3

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



The University of San Francisco has touted the sale of KUSF's frequency and the station's proposed shift to online radio as a teaching opportunity. But the real lesson may be a reminder of the value of the city's assets — and how easily they can be taken away. "We're learning how unbelievably sacred bandwidth is on the FM dial," says Irwin Swirnoff, who was a musical director at the station.

Swirnoff and the Save KUSF campaign hope USF will give the community an opportunity to buy the university's transmitter, much as Southern Vermont College's WBTN 1370 AM was purchased by a local nonprofit.

For Swirnoff and many others, listener-generated playlists can't substitute for the human touch. "DJs get to tell a story through music," he explains. "They're able to reach a range of emotions and [speak to] the factors that are in the city at that moment, its nature and politics. Through music, they can create a moving dialogue and story."

Swirnoff also points to the DJ's personally selective role during a time of corporate media saturation and tremendous musical production. "In the digital age, the amount of music out in the world can be totally overwhelming," he says. "A good station can take in all those releases and give you the best garage rock, the best Persian dance music, everything. One DJ can be a curator of 100 years of music and can find a way to bring the listener to a unique place."

Local music and voices aren't getting heard on computer-programmed, voice-tracked commercial stations despite inroads of satellite radio into local news. In a world where marketing seems to reign supreme, is there a stronger SF radio brand than the almost 50-year-old KUSF when it comes to sponsoring shows and breaking new bands for the discriminating SF music fan? "People in the San Francisco music community who are in bands and are club owners know college radio is still a vital piece in promoting bands and clubs," says Waits. "There are small shows that are only getting promotion over college radio."

"It was a great year for San Francisco music, and we [KUSF] got to blast it the most," Swirnoff continued. "It's really sad that right now you can't turn on terrestrial radio and hear Grass Widow, Sic Alps, or Thee Oh Sees, when it's some of the best music being made in the city right now."



Aside from KUSF, the only place where you could hear, for instance, minimal Scandinavian electronics and sweater funk regularly on the radio was Pirate Cat. The pirate station was the latest in a long, unruly queue, from Radio Libre to KPBJ, that — as rhapsodized about in Sue Carpenter's 2004 memoir, 40 Watts From Nowhere: A Journey into Pirate Radio — have taken to the air with low-power FM transmitters.

After being shut down by the FCC and fined $10,000 in 2009, Pirate Cat is in limbo, further adrift thanks to a dispute about who owns the station. Daniel "Monkey" Roberts' sale of Pirate Cat Café in the Mission left loyal volunteers wondering who should even receive their $30-a-month contributions. Roberts shut down the Pirate Cat site and stream on Feb. 20. Since then, some Pirate Cat volunteers have been attempting to launch their own online stream under the moniker PCR Collective Radio.

"We would definitely start our own station," says Aaron Lazenby, Pirate Cat's skweee DJ and a Radio Free Santa Cruz vet. "The question now is how to resolve the use of Pirate Cat so we don't lose momentum and lose our community. We all love it too much to let it fizzle out like that."


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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