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One Week Later, Questions, Anger Persist over KUSF Sale

"Save KUSF" movement gains steam as deal plays out in competitive non-commercial radio marketplace

It's hard to believe it's only been a week since KUSF went off the air. Howard Ryan, the DJ whose show was cut off abruptly, still can't talk about his final moments in the studio without getting emotional. Trista Bernasconi, who was given the unpleasant task of actually turning off the 34-year-old station's transmitter, described last week as a "nightmare." And at last week's public meeting with USF president Father Privett, student Chad Heimann told the 500 or so people in the room that his own school made him feel like a criminal.

It's safe to say that USF's sale of KUSF to USC, in a complicated three-way radio deal, was not a smooth transfer.

What's harder to say is what will happen next. The volunteers who make up the bulk of KUSF's operation — some of whom, like David Pang of Chinese Star Radio, have been working for almost two decades or more — have decided to fight.

Today there will be a rally at 1 p.m. on the steps of City Hall, and Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, whose district includes USF, will introduce a resolution in support of Team Save KUSF.

The Save KUSF Facebook page, for what it's worth, has 6,300 fans and counting.

Among local musicians and artists (including cartoonist Keith Knight, who made a panel) who have lent their support to KUSF is Aaron Peskin, chair of the SF Democratic Party, who says the party could take a position as soon as tomorrow night. "I'm amongst the thousands of voices who are concerned over the takeover of the station," he said. As an occasional listener ("when I'm in a car") he said he wanted to "do right by KUSF."

The transfer of KUSF to USC's classical radio nonprofit, the Classical Public Radio Network (CPCN) takes place amongst some broader trends in radio. With a tight credit market, commercial radio transactions have been in the doldrums, according to trade magazines, and the action left of the dial is uncharastically lively.

According to Erik Langner, director of acquisitions at Public Radio Capital, a non-profit advocacy group that works to expand public and community radio, the non-commercial market is split among three groups: religious programming (led by Educational Media Foundation, a 300-station Christian radio nonprofit based near Sacramento), public radio (loosely associated with Corporation for Public Broadcasting) and community radio (typically tied to a high school or college, as in this case.) 

Since 1996, when deregulation went to effect, Langner said that religious radio has been expanding its market share, and colleges have been divesting themselves of their often-expensive stations. But more recently, colleges have been going in the opposite direction. 

"One of the trends we're seeing is that universities who have a parent institution to rely on for credit are becoming buyers," he said. "As prices drop, they are seeing opportunity to expand their mission of providing public interest programming."

While Langner wouldn't comment on the USF situation, it seems that those forces are in play here. USC has had great success with its classical format KUSC in Southern California; its website boasts that it "is the largest and most listened to public radio and non-profit classical music station in the country."

The Bay Area's version of KUSC will feature local programming but will have ties to its southern owner. Without generalizing too broadly from KUSF's sale, it does seem that the non-commercial end of the dial is getting more crowded with public and religious programming at the expense of community radio.

Neither USF nor FCC were able to confirm that the sale's papers had been filed at the time of this writing, but if they haven't yet, they will soon.

As the news of the sale enters its second week, some are choosing to fight while some are moving on.

KUSF DJ Ryan, like many volunteers, said he wouldn't be going to the online-only format, although according to SF Weekly, student DJ Heimann said he would be missing today's meeting to begin his work at the new station. 

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