The Trojan Horse

The KUSFers in Frisco just won’t go away. Their Facebook page is climbing towards 7,000 friends, and the tenor in the blogosphere has taken a decided militant tone, witness this post on called “Tell USC local, independent media is too important: don’t crush community stations from afar”:

The University of Southern California has announced that it will ‘preserve classical music in San Francisco’ via the purchase of the rights to broadcast there at 90.3 FM and 89.9 FM. USC sees this as a chance to connect with alumni and with potential recruits. The deal, however, is a travesty.

For decades, 90.3 has been the home of the award-winning, University of San Francisco-operated community station KUSF-FM. As part of a deal negotiated behind closed doors between USC, the University of San Francisco, and Entercom – one of the largest radio station owners in the country — the station was unceremoniously torn from the airwaves earlier this week. Volunteers arrived to find the station behind lock and key; others report being treated like criminals as they were ushered out in a state of surprise. Preserving classical music from afar should not come at the expense of the cultural and musical communities that are now losing a key hub. As USC students, alumni, faculty and staff, it troubles us deeply that our own institution is partially responsible for this outcome.

Educational stations are one of America’s last widely-available outlets for local, critical and challenging content. During a time in which independent voices are increasingly scarce on the consolidated FM dial, USC’s initiative comes at the cost of hobbling a decades-old community institution. Please sign the petition below to express solidarity with those of the KUSF community working for the return of their station. It is our hope that USC can achieve its goals while preserving a valuable San Francisco voice.

And this, the post notes, “is directed specifically to students, alumni, faculty and staff of USC.” The petition itself goes a step further:

Entercom, one of the largest operators of radio stations in the United States, appears to have entered into a ‘content swap’ with USC Radio. USC will gain control of Entercom’s classical-music station 102.1 KDFC-FM in San Francisco, changing the commercial station into a nonprofit entity while retaining its name and staff. Entercom will now use its valuable slot at 102.1 FM to rebroadcast its San Jose-based KFOX 98.5 classic rock programming. This offers the benefit of likely increased ad revenue with no additional cost or effort. USC Radio would need to find a different home on the dial for its new enterprise, hence the purchase of 90.3. (USC also purchased broadcasting rights to 89.9 FM, operated by Christian broadcaster Howell Mountain Broadcasting.) USC is reported to have spent $3.75 million to complete the entire transaction.

Why do this? USC Radio president Brenda Barnes told the Daily Trojan, “There are a lot of Trojans in the Bay Area… USC wanted to have a more tangible presence in an area that is so important for alumni and perspective students.” This effort carries heavy collateral damage. The first opportunity for KUSF’s audience to respond – which they did in droves, emphatically opposing the sale of their station – was at a public meeting January 19, 2011, after the station’s closing. This gathering unfortunately did not even include students who were still on winter break.

Local content on radio is rare in the current highly-consolidated media environment. Community access and involvement is even more rare. KUSF-FM provided both. Educational stations licensed by the FCC decades ago, now increasingly and shortsightedly sold by their home institutions for a quick windfall, have become one of the few ways marginalized voices and content can reach the public. While some administrators may see their radio stations as little more than a “teaching laboratory” for students considering broadcast careers, in reality they have become vitally important institutions in themselves, as innumerable alumni and devoted listeners of such stations can attest. These stations are taking chances on perspectives and content not otherwise represented by commercial media, nor would most NPR affiliates touch much of what airs on them.


3 Responses

  1. KZSU listeners and KUSF supporters! 90.3 is applying for a power increase before the FCC has even approved the license sale.

    Our signal will be diminished / lost in SF, East Bay and North Bay! Please let us know how this will affect you!

  2. USC only preserved Entercom’s bottom line. The classical music swap makes it impossible for many to hear the “Preserved” classical music because the KUSF signal USC purchased is really quite weak.

    For an animated lesson on the deal, check this out:

  3. This story reminds me of a movie-in-progress titled Bum DJs. It’s a story about a fictitious community radio station KYFU. The station manager plots to take control of the station so he can sell it for big bucks to commercial interest.

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