Save KUSF!

Having been a college radio DJ for 12 years, I feel obligated to say something about KUSF, even though I don’t have much to offer.

In a complicated transaction that I still don’t quite follow, KUSF (90.3 FM) has been sold by the University of San Francisco. The short version: publicly funded classical station KDFC, formerly 102.1 FM, will take its place.

KUSF technically doesn’t die; it become an online entity. Which means listeners will no longer stumble upon it in that moment of wonderful discovery that’s become so rare on radio.

KUSF is not alone. Universities are strapped for cash, and their FCC licenses are very sellable properties due to their scarcity.

Signal To Noise magazine devoted its latest issue to this, um, issue. It’s a topic that really hit home, because publisher Pete Gershon is (was) a DJ at KTRU, Rice University’s station — which, similarly, is getting sold off. Gershon’s long, detailed article — a nice showcase of what magazine writing can accomplish, by the way — traces the station’s history, its unfolding reaction to the sale, and the toll the situation has taken on the staff. Bottom line: There’s a lot of anger, but there aren’t a lot of options.

That’s a little bit how I feel here. I’d be lying if I said I was a longtime KUSF fan, since I live outside their range. But I feel solidarity for their plight, and it’s got me wondering about the wealth of good community radio we have here in the Bay Area — KZSU, KFJC, KALX, KPFA. Heck, even KKUP, which I don’t listen to often, but which presents a folk/roots subset that would otherwise go unbroadcasted. This is substantial work that’s in the public good. But in the last three decades in this country, anything that doesn’t profit a corporation has been looked upon with increasing suspicion. And the gaze of that evil, unblinking eye has finally fallen on college radio.

So, if you listen to any college radio, you’ve got to pay attention to the KUSF situation. Their troubles could easily come to a station near you.

A couple of resources:

* There’s a Save KUSF group on Facebook. It’s mainly being used for a lot of venting right now, but there’s some substantial information there. Might be an easy way to track the situation.

* summarized the meeting where USF officials explained the sale. KUSF got taken off the air abruptly, a fact that intensified the subsequent outrage. Turns out, that happened because USF was forced to sign nondisclosure agreements in order to even negotiate the sale — nobody could be told ahead of time, which conveniently meant that the likely public opposition could be kept in the dark until the papers were signed. That’s business.

By the way — if you’re hoping low-power licenses (smaller radio stations, recently approved by the FCC if I understand correctly) will be the savior of college radio… fat chance. Every last one of those licenses is going to get snapped up by the religious right. They’re more funded, motivated, and organized than most scrappy DIY outfits.

The only advice I can offer is this: Contact your local colleges and universities. Tell them you treasure college radio. It is part of their mission, and it’s a valuable cultural resource at a time when culture is being bleached out of the media. Having things on the Internet is not the answer. (If it was, then all these broadcasting companies would turn off their signals and go Internet-only. There’s a reason they don’t do that.)

Finally, a word about KDFC. This whole situation is disappointing, but for that particular station, this is at least a small step up. In a big-corporation attempt to turn classical music into a moneymaker, KDFC had begun promoting itself as “classical you can listen to at work,” or some such. Lots of Mozart, LOTS of commercials, and no living composers aside from the names that snuck into the SF Symphony live broadcasts. Well, maybe it’s unfair of me to be so dismissive — because after giving KDFC a cursory listen several years ago, I never went back. Its abuse of classical music as intentional background music was just offensive — and I really mean that. I felt used.

But KDFC becomes noncommercial in this deal. While they’ll stick to classical-classical music, they’ll hopefully feel free to explore more nooks and crannies and to play longer pieces or even (god forbid) entire symphonies and sonatas. Maybe it sounds like a crazy dream, but similar thinking has kept KCSM alive, thankfully. There’s hope.