We want the airwaves

Where KUSF stands now, exactly 12 months after the shutdown

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The protests for KUSF continue to this day.
PHOTO BY IRWIN SWIRNOFF

MUSIC It was written in an email exchange more than two months before 90.3 FM, better known as KUSF, was abruptly taken off the air. "We expect there will be a vocal minority that will be unhappy with the sale." That cold-corporate speak delivered plainly from one of the involved entities was an ominous and understated prediction.

One year has passed since Jan. 18, 2011, when the station eventually was silenced in a shrouded and complex deal involving conglomerates, brokers, and non-disclosure agreements. However, the University of San Francisco's attempt to sell the station's broadcast license to Public Radio Capital and the University of Southern California's Classical Public Radio Network (CPRN) for $3.75 million is not a done deal.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has yet to approve the sale that has thus far been thwarted by a collective of volunteers who secured legal counsel in order to preserve over 33 years of independent, community radio and to resume broadcasting at the 90.3 frequency.

According to attorney Peter Franck, co-counsel for Friends of KUSF, a hearing would be the next step in the flurry of legal action if all goes well in the effort to save the station. He's optimistic that the chances are greater with every day that passes that the sale will be denied and is confident the FCC is taking the situation seriously.

"I think it's a very important case and the trend of college stations disappearing isn't good. It's about keeping the airwaves public," he said.

CPRN initially said the move to acquire the frequency was out of a genuine desire to preserve classical music. But according to the group Save KUSF, Entercom — one of the top five largest radio broadcasting companies in the U.S., is a for-profit entity that was instrumental in orchestrating the deal. Classical and formerly commercial programming, previously heard on KDFC 102.1, took over 90.3 while the ubiquitous sounds of classic rock (KFOX) began emanating from 102.1 and Entercom's studios.

Dorothy Kidd, a media studies professor at USF, who has adamantly opposed the sale because the university kept faculty and students in the dark, speculated that Entercom is footing the bill to keep KDFC afloat, presumably losing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The much larger issue of media consolidation of course goes beyond KUSF. Tracy Rosenberg from Oakland-based Media Alliance noted that colleges and universities are selling their non-commercial educational licenses for millions of dollars.

WRVU (Vanderbilt University, Nashville) and KTRU (Rice University, Houston) are going through similar struggles with corporate radio lusting after their licenses. But on a positive note, Rosenberg said smaller, independent stations are banding together and that a coalition has emerged from this issue. "San Francisco is not the same city or as culturally vital without KUSF," she said.

The absence of the station immediately sparked the ire of the community who felt deceived by USF. The man in the middle of it all who claimed responsibility for the decision and took some heat for it was USF President Father Stephen A. Privett. A day after the deal was made public; he held an uncomfortable public meeting on campus. There he repeated that KUSF would continue in an "online only" format. In addition, a promise was made that a "teaching lab" would be put in place for students. Though he couldn't guarantee the full $3.75 million in would-be revenue was going to the department.

After talking to faculty, students, and alumni it became clear that no such media lab for students was in place. "The online station is not up and running and most likely will not be until the legal battle is over," said Chad Heimann, a graduate from the Media Studies Department who was also a KUSF volunteer. He added that he thinks USF doesn't want to invest in the online station until they know that the station will be sold.

Comments

The article does not mention that you can listen to KUSF in Exile on iTunes. Click "Radio", then click "College/University", finally click KUSF-IN-EXILE.

Father Privett should not be allowed to sell our community airwaves for the University's private profit. If anything, they should be forced to return the license to the FCC, who should then grant another noncommercial educational license to the most worthy party who would serve community interests.

Posted by F the SFMTA on Jan. 18, 2012 @ 8:08 am

Today's demonstration raised some noise and attracted some media coverage, but it mostly is a reminder that the real fight (the legal effort) continues quietly behind the scenes. Protests and raising hell are fun, but ineffective. The real reason the disposition of the KUSF license remains unresolved a year after the shutdown is because of smart, consistent work on the legal front. The FCC has multiple issues to consider as it weighs the facts before the fat lady sings.

Posted by Props to 'F'. 'Guest' is misinformed on Jan. 18, 2012 @ 3:24 pm

I commend the online KUSF effort. However, 90.3 will never return to KUSF. The Commission will approve the transfer, likely with a fine for USF and CPRN. However, the deal is done. The article seems a bit dated. Two of the stations are no longer in as struggle. KTRU was sold and the former station is on HD2 of KPFT. WDUQ was sold to Essential public media, and is no more. WRVU is really no more, as the LMA with WPLN can remain as long as the VSC wants it to continue, though there is an agreement to purchase the station. WRVU remains as an online entity, and on WPLN HD3.The first two stations were student stations, WDUQ was not.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 18, 2012 @ 8:48 am

I commend the online KUSF effort. However, 90.3 will never return to KUSF. The Commission will approve the transfer, likely with a fine for USF and CPRN. However, the deal is done. The article seems a bit dated. Two of the stations are no longer in as struggle. KTRU was sold and the former station is on HD2 of KPFT. WDUQ was sold to Essential public media, and is no more. WRVU is really no more, as the LMA with WPLN can remain as long as the VSC wants it to continue, though there is an agreement to purchase the station. WRVU remains as an online entity, and on WPLN HD3.The first two stations were student stations, WDUQ was not.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 18, 2012 @ 8:48 am

Unlike decades ago, for the last decade there are almost no jobs in radio. Why train people for a shrinking industry? That is no favor to students.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 18, 2012 @ 12:07 pm

have you never listened to streaming Internet radio or podcasts with hosts? Just because the medium changes doesn't mean that the nature of the job does -- just the sweep of reach. Which is why the loss of KUSF is being felt so dearly, despite being available in exile online.

Posted by marke on Jan. 18, 2012 @ 12:18 pm

Education is about more than getting a job (it could help overthrow a corporatocracy). Hopefully it is about expanding your heart and mind and working with the community that allows you to exist, which USF has failed miserably to do in this case.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 18, 2012 @ 1:01 pm

"Why train people for a shrinking industry ? " Well,besides the excellent reasons posted above it's because the world is always changing ,and what's down today may well be back up in a few years time.Over the air radio may be down in popularity right now but that doesn't mean it always will be .With the advent of LPFM and new frequencies being opened up radio is currently in a state of flux, there is no telling where it might be in 10 years time.I recommend looking into the radio activist group The Prometheus Project ,they are working world wide to bring free,over the air radio to everyone.
But the issues currently facing stations such as KUSF and WRVU come mainly from two sources.First there are the short sighted administrators such as Father Privett who can't see past all the zeroes on the checks they are getting for the sale of assets that really belong to their students,both current and future.And there is the real 500lb gorilla in all of the deals mentioned above,Public Radio Capital.The "facilitator" in the buying and selling of college stations across the country.And they continue to march on,just this week it was announced that they had helped broker a deal that shut down yet another Texas college station,KOCV in Odessa,TX.It's the mix of short sighted administrators and predatory capital groups that are driving the nails into college radio's coffin ,not any downturn in interest.So hat's off to the student groups fighting these practices,KUSF and WRVU may well rise again due to their devotion and hard work.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 19, 2012 @ 6:23 pm

I just don't buy it that PRC is the boogieman. USF wanted to sell KUSF. Vanderbilt wanted to sell WRVU. KOCV was up for sell by its licensee. PRC helped keep these stations from being bought by religous groups. It might really suck that these station are no longer what they used to be, but at least they are public radio stations. Would you rather have them go to someone preaching fire & brimstone out of Idaho or Louisana?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 20, 2012 @ 12:12 pm

There is no question that PRC is clear-cutting the Left of the Dial. It is smart business. They have positioned themselves as "preserving classical music." They compare themselves to Trust for Public Land, but the big difference is that there is no conservation easement or permanent protection for the unique local value and locally-made programming wiped out in each of these transactions.

The PRC model, replicates the threat posed by religious consolidators as it wanes. The religious groups already have already used the same loopholes to amass a considerable number of NCE licenses. As their acquisitional efforts slow, PRC has adopted the model and positioned themselves as a solution rather than the problem.

The KUSF deal has begun to bring this to light. When PRC and CPRN (which shares a managing director with PRC) entered the market here they had been operating in "stealth mode." It was nearly impossible to find news about their transactions, financials for CPRN, or anything to connect the dots. The fact remains that KDFC was the last Commercial Classical station left in a major market. One of PRC/CPRN's principal revenue strategies is moving these commercial classical stations to the left of the dial -- to target their listeners, who just so happen to be a very distinct group of high-income donors. KDFC had a Top 7 Arbitron rating in Jan 2011, it's signal a better job of reaching it's audience while also protecting that of 90.3FM in it's city of license -- what is PRC/CPRN protecting here? Brenda Barnes has said in several interviews that their aim is to connect with "Bay Area Trojan" donors. That doesn't have anything to do with local programming, broadly speaking to the diverse populations of SF, or protecting anything, but their own bottom-line.

Furthermore, the issue with this deal is not USF or Vandebilt's right to divest themselves of the responsibility of running a radio station, but in their responsibility to do so in a manner that gives the public access to their public airwaves. It lies in not opening up bidding to local entities. In not being transparent. Now the original purchase agreement has timed out USF can walk away from this deal without penalty. Why not ask them to review other offers? I'm sure the Board of Supervisors would be happy to support this.

It's reasonable for USF to realize a fair rate of appreciation for any monies actually paid by USF., but they should not profit beyond that. The Foghorn shows: "Funding (for the original station AM station started in 1963) was provided by the Associated Students of USF (ASUSF)," which is said to have cost around $45k. More recently, it was KUSF volunteers who raised public funds to repair this same transmitter in question. USF is realizing an ethically-dubious profit upwards of $3 million dollars -- for a license and equipment that was principally funded by student and public donations. That surely does not seem legal, ethical, or above-board.

The issues of premature assumption of control, clearly supported by USF dismantling the main studio, third-party fundraising, and loss of unique public value are substantial. The FCC has shown they are worth considering by launching their own unprecedented Inquiry and by accepting the FOIA request calling for the release of information submitted by USF/CPRN as confidential.

Texas Watchdog took an active role is bring the facts behind the KTRU deal to light and that is very much what is needed here. There was over $10 million in back-end swaps between Entercom, PRC, CPRN and USC in the KUSF deal. This is not inclusive of hard acquisition costs of licenses for KUSF, KNDL, the KUSP translator, or the South Bay station PRC has hired a broker to shop for aggressively. This deal passing without a thorough look, stands to erode the entire Bay Area Radio landscape, for all time. That PRC has now put in a bid on KCSM-TV is also worth considering.

All told, I think your points about PRC loosely-made, but this is a result of a very deliberate effort to present only the facts which lead to such a conclusion. From any perspective, what is most needed is a solid piece of investigative reporting, like the Guardian did with PG&E. Once someone is able to follow the money in this deal and PRC's transactions across the country, a clear assessment can be made.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 20, 2012 @ 2:57 pm

There is no question that PRC is clear-cutting the Left of the Dial. It is smart business. They have positioned themselves as "preserving classical music." They compare themselves to Trust for Public Land, but the big difference is that there is no conservation easement or permanent protection for the unique local value and locally-made programming wiped out in each of these transactions.

The PRC model, replicates the threat posed by religious consolidators as it wanes. The religious groups already have already used the same loopholes to amass a considerable number of NCE licenses. As their acquisitional efforts slow, PRC has adopted the model and positioned themselves as a solution rather than the problem.

The KUSF deal has begun to bring this to light. When PRC and CPRN (which shares a managing director with PRC) entered the market here they had been operating in "stealth mode." It was nearly impossible to find news about their transactions, financials for CPRN, or anything to connect the dots. The fact remains that KDFC was the last Commercial Classical station left in a major market. One of PRC/CPRN's principal revenue strategies is moving these commercial classical stations to the left of the dial -- to target their listeners, who just so happen to be a very distinct group of high-income donors. KDFC had a Top 7 Arbitron rating in Jan 2011, it's signal a better job of reaching it's audience while also protecting that of 90.3FM in it's city of license -- what is PRC/CPRN protecting here? Brenda Barnes has said in several interviews that their aim is to connect with "Bay Area Trojan" donors. That doesn't have anything to do with local programming, broadly speaking to the diverse populations of SF, or protecting anything, but their own bottom-line.

Furthermore, the issue with this deal is not USF or Vandebilt's right to divest themselves of the responsibility of running a radio station, but in their responsibility to do so in a manner that gives the public access to their public airwaves. It lies in not opening up bidding to local entities. In not being transparent. Now the original purchase agreement has timed out USF can walk away from this deal without penalty. Why not ask them to review other offers? I'm sure the Board of Supervisors would be happy to support this.

It's reasonable for USF to realize a fair rate of appreciation for any monies actually paid by USF., but they should not profit beyond that. The Foghorn shows: "Funding (for the original station AM station started in 1963) was provided by the Associated Students of USF (ASUSF)," which is said to have cost around $45k. More recently, it was KUSF volunteers who raised public funds to repair this same transmitter in question. USF is realizing an ethically-dubious profit upwards of $3 million dollars -- for a license and equipment that was principally funded by student and public donations. That surely does not seem legal, ethical, or above-board.

The issues of premature assumption of control, clearly supported by USF dismantling the main studio, third-party fundraising, and loss of unique public value are substantial. The FCC has shown they are worth considering by launching their own unprecedented Inquiry and by accepting the FOIA request calling for the release of information submitted by USF/CPRN as confidential.

Texas Watchdog took an active role is bring the facts behind the KTRU deal to light and that is very much what is needed here. There was over $10 million in back-end swaps between Entercom, PRC, CPRN and USC in the KUSF deal. This is not inclusive of hard acquisition costs of licenses for KUSF, KNDL, the KUSP translator, or the South Bay station PRC has hired a broker to shop for aggressively. This deal passing without a thorough look, stands to erode the entire Bay Area Radio landscape, for all time. That PRC has now put in a bid on KCSM-TV is also worth considering.

All told, I think your points about PRC loosely-made, but this is a result of a very deliberate effort to present only the facts which lead to such a conclusion. From any perspective, what is most needed is a solid piece of investigative reporting, like the Guardian did with PG&E. Once someone is able to follow the money in this deal and PRC's transactions across the country, a clear assessment can be made.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 20, 2012 @ 2:54 pm

Hope that KUSF prevails but don't count on the FCC supporting your cause when the buyer is part of the public radio syndicate. You can't expect government to regulate itself. This the radio equivalent of an eminent domain take over. Government is going to take what it wants.

Posted by Guest Anonymous on Jan. 21, 2012 @ 12:34 pm