Irwin Swirnoff, a KUSF Music Director, in the KUSF Library Back in 2009
Around 12:00 noon yesterday I got an email titled "Upsetting News about KUSF" from one of my fellow DJs at KFJC. It's the kind of email that you dread seeing in your inbox and after diving into its contents, I was shocked to see what I was reading. I am a KUSF listener, have profiled the station on this blog for my radio station field trip series, and have rhapsodized about one of their shows ("Radiodrome"), calling it one of my favorite radio shows ever. In a weird twist of fate, it turns out that KUSF went off the air during my favorite radio show yesterday and the DJs had no idea what was coming.
Throughout the day more and more details came to light, making me feel even more troubled about the loss of a great college radio station from the San Francisco airwaves.
So, here's what happened:
Tuesday, January 18th, 2011:
9:00 am: The General Manager and Program Director of KUSF were called into the Dean's office and told that KUSF was sold effective 10am
10:00 am: KUSF signal goes to static, as the transmitter is turned off. The on-air KUSF DJ's show is cut short and he has to cancel a scheduled live performance by the band The Pickpocket Ensemble
11:52 am: KUSF tweets: "ATTENTION: USF just sold KUSF! #WTF we're off the air. we need your help. Impromptu demonstration on the USF campus tomorrow at 7"
11:58 am: CarolyntheDJ tweets: "Just showed up @kusf to my show and the doors are locked. USF has sold the station. Management was in on it. They're keeping all our records."
Around the same time, University of San Francisco released a statement that they planned to sell the station to Classical Public Radio Network, a public radio group owned by University of Southern California (apparently replacing the old, now defunct online-only Classical Public Radio Network). The press release stated that KUSF will transition to an online-only station effective immediately and will be able to retain its call letters.
It wasn't until later in the day that the entire picture was revealed. A press release from around 3:30pm announced that commercial classical radio station KDFC was going to be moving to KUSF's 90.3 FM frequency as part of a complicated deal involved both commercial and non-commercial radio stations. According to the release:
"...The University of Southern California (USC) today announced it has entered into an agreement with Entercom Communications to convert KDFC into a non-commercial classical music station based in San Francisco. In keeping with Entercom Communications' commitment to classical radio, the company has entrusted the stewardship of the new, noncommercial KDFC Radio to a new nonprofit company based in San Francisco, commencing on January 18...
The new station will use the call letters KDFC, the area's former commercial classical outlet since 1947, the result of a series of transactions involving several radio owners in the region. The new KDFC will broadcast over the two non-commercial signals, 90.3 and 89.9...USC has purchased the rights to 90.3 KUSF, from the University of San Francisco and 89.9 KNDL from Howell Mountain Broadcasting Company. KUSF will continue online as a webcast station."
When I tuned in to 90.3 FM at 5:15pm yesterday it was already airing programming from KDFC. The DJ announced that the station was excited about their new "commercial-free" status and that they would officially be moving to 90.3 and 89.9 FM on Monday, January 24 at 12 noon. The KDFC website also eagerly announced this move (the station was formerly on the commercial band at 102.1 FM) and encouraged supporters to donate to the new "listener-supported" station.
Since KUSF staffers and DJs were taken by surprise, they are still trying to make sense of the situation. Several of them attempted to get answers from University of San Francisco's Director of Business and Finance Charlie Cross. A video recounts their encounter at his office, as he rebuffs them and asks for security to be called:
KUSF listeners and staff are peeved about this and have already started sending letters to the administration expressing their displeasure. In her tongue-in-cheek letter to USF President Stephen A. Privett, Julia Mazawa writes,
"The University's dedication to service to the community, promotion of critical inquiry, and promotion of cultural diversity is no better exemplified than in its recent sale of KUSF's FM frequency. And it has been the acme of deft public relations to boot!
USF clearly demonstrates the need to prioritize service to its amazingly diverse local community, San Francisco, by pulling the plug on the terrestrial signal of the highly-regarded station KUSF. Now, thankfully, there will be no more Chinese Star Radio clogging the airwaves with its foreign chatter, no more Radio Goethe bumming out the lower end of the dial with that bizarre German music, no more In the Soul Kitchen filling the airwaves with the soul classics that were actually interesting, and THANK JESUS there will finally be an end to that intolerable New Music programming that wasted valuable airtime with its nonsensical notions about what exactly constitutes music.
Thank you, USF, for ridding the airwaves of those crazy deejays who challenged the San Francisco community to invest a couple brain cells into actually thinking about the media fed to them. Thank you, you sons of bitches who now find yourselves $3.75 million richer, for replacing this needlessly challenging and frighteningly novel programming with tepid classical swill. Your selfless service to the community awes me...."
Amazingly, USF President Privett responded to Julia's email:
"Dear Ms. Mazzawa(sic),
Thank you for your letter of support. Your understanding that our students’(sic) do not pay their rather high tuition to subsidize providing alternate music for the outside community is not widely shared by ...those who disagree with my decision. I further appreciate your understanding that a university's first responsibility is to its faculty and students, not to the community-at-large. Yours is a conviction that is not shared by those who believe that USF should first and foremost serve those whose contributions have never covered the cost of delivering the service they enjoy at the expense of USF students and their families. Finally, I applaud your support for USF’s primary mission: the education of its students and not serving as an entertainment resource for the outside community, no matter how valuable or important that service may be. Would that more people had your wisdom, insight and appreciation for the role of a university.
Stephen A. Privett, SJ
KUSF supporters will be rallying on the University of San Francisco campus on Wednesday night around 7pm at Fromm Hall. Unfortunately Stephen Privett is not expected to show up at the meeting to discuss the future of KUSF. No doubt his inbox will still be flooded.
Although Twitter and Facebook have been buzzing with this news all day and local media outlets (especially indie media) have been doing a great job of covering the situation at KUSF, supporters are just getting a Save KUSF page set up on Facebook and a Save KUSF blog set up online.
Another opportunity to join in the discussion will happen on the San Francisco public radio airwaves on Wednesday morning. One of KUSF's Music Directors, Irwin Swirnoff, will be appearing on the KQED radio call in talk-show Forum to discuss the situation at 9am on Wednesday the 19th.