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KUSF Volunteers Call in the Troops

New Jersey's freeform station WFMU in town for simulcast at Amoeba, as lawyers ready petition to block the station's sale

What a difference a month makes. On January 18th, the University of San Francisco unceremoniously unplugged  its 34-year old radio station, KUSF, promising that there would be a smooth format change from broadcasting at 90.3 FM to streaming online only.

Instead, volunteers alongside some USF students have mounted a fierce campaign to galvanize political support, raise money for legal fees and call in favors from KUSF fans all over the country.

Well-known musicians such as Kronos Quartet and Yo La Tengo have chimed in, as have national publications like Pitchfork and the LA Times.

Starting at noon, freeform powerhouse WFMU from New Jersey will be hosting a three-hour simulcast at Amoeba Records on Haight Street. This show, anchored by WFMU DJ Billy Jam will feature half-hour sets from KUSF folks like Irwin Swirnoff, one of the leaders of the Save KUSF effort and DJ Schmeejay, aka Howard Ryan, whose show was interrupted when KUSF cut the transmitter.

Locally, KALX of Berkeley and KZSU from Stanford will be broadcasting the programming as well as WXYC in New York, WCBN in Michigan, WITC in Wisconsin and many more. (Full list here.)

This is only one of the ways the acclaimed WFMU has been helping KUSF. WFMU program director Ken Freedman spent the bulk of the week in San Francisco, meeting with KUSF volunteers to strategize about its future. The SF station's situation is somewhat analagous to what happened to WFMU: when the college that founded WFMU, Upsala, went bankrupt, it appealed to the community for support. WFMU was able to buy back its signal and discovered how to integrate online programming into its work much sooner than other stations. (It was the first radio station to offer live streaming to iPhones, for example.)

But as Freedman said, WFMU had some advantages that KUSF doesn't. "Our situation was very, very different. When we became independent of the college that owned us, I spent six years preparing for that. I saw it coming from a long way away," he said.

"We were not taken by surprise, as KUSF was, although, perhaps in retrospect, KUSF should have seen it coming."

Although WFMU has worked hard to establish its presence online, Freedman said that he thought it was important for a radio station to broadcast over the airwaves. Right now, much of KUSF's effort is focused on stopping the sale of its signal: they have raised about $15,000 (not counting money from benefit shows or t-shirt sales) for pay for lawyers to write a petition with the FCC to block the sale of the station, which it will file next week. Another $10,000 is needed for that effort.

And political support keeps rolling in. In addition to the SF Board of Supervisor's resolution and a statement passed by the SF Democratic Party, possible mayoral candidate and State Senator Leland Yee wrote a letter this week, highlighting the contribution of community-based programs like Chinese Star Radio, to the public.

It's hard to say what the future holds for KUSF. Volunteer Kenya Lewis said that there 100 or so core volunteers working on efforts to save the station, and that number is  joined by around 7,400 Facebook fans, who have generated 1.4 million hits on the page. While efforts now are focused on the FCC decision to approve or deny the sale, she said that there are already plans "in the background" for other directions for the community radio station to go in. Of all the local noncommercial stations, Lewis said that "KUSF is only one that makes local progamming its main focus." People want, she continued, "SF to sound like SF."

Stream the simulcast online here.

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