A New Look at Nonprofits?

Sharon Vegas Selby sent word of what could be a seismic change in the way the FCC is viewing the consolidation of public radio stations. According to the referenced article on the Philanthropy Today website, the battle in San Francisco over KUSF may signal a new day for college radio. But don’t bet the farm on it. It could just be a ploy to look busy…

FCC Inquiry on Calif. Station Sale Hints at Closer Eye on Nonprofit Radio

The Federal Communications Commission has sent an unusual “letter of inquiry” to the parties in the planned sale of a California classical-music station to a nonprofit radio network, possibly signaling sharper regulation of consolidation among public radio stations, according to the Bay Citizen.

KDFC, a commercial classical station, was sold in January to the Classical Public Radio Network, a nonprofit entity largely owned by the University of Southern California.

KDFC’s move to the public-radio end of the FM dial dislodged a locally popular University of San Francisco station, KUSF, whose supporters have protested the sale.

Other major universities have sold broadcast licenses for campus stations to public broadcasting networks amid a booming market for public radio.

An official of the USC network said the letter, which among other thing requests e-mails relating to the sale, is “unprecedented.”

John Crigler, a Washington communications lawyer, said the FCC ruling on the deal will have ramifications “for every noncommercial station going forward.”

The Bay Citizen article from the New York Times website added this:

The letter included several requests. It asked for a year’s worth of e-mails between the parties related to the sale and for information relating to the operating agreements between the two universities, among other materials.

Friends of KUSF, the group that has raised about $40,000 to legally contest the sale, had previously submitted documents to the commission claiming that U.S.F. had destroyed the station’s studios, and could not oversee or originate the broadcast during the transition period before agency approval, as F.C.C. rules dictate.

In early August, the universities replied to the letter of inquiry, dismissing concerns about the state of the KUSF studio and refusing to submit the requested e-mails.

In a strong rebuttal, two lawyers for Friends of KUSF, Alan Korn and Peter Franck, called the answers to the agency’s questions “deceptive.” The group has called for a hearing. It hopes the F.C.C. will expand its oversight of noncommercial radio transactions, which, thanks to a bad economy and big audiences for public radio, have been a booming market.

Universities like U.S.F., Vanderbilt and Rice are selling their stations, turning their homegrown programming over to National Public Radio or nonprofits like KUSC, which owns a network of stations in California.

“It basically comes down to media consolidation,” said Tracy Rosenberg, executive director of Media Alliance, a media watchdog based in the Bay Area that drafted a letter in July asking the F.C.C. to hold an inquiry on noncommercial-radio sales. Thirty other media and music organizations also signed the letter.

“It’s not only KUSF — it’s an ongoing problem, and it’s going to get worse,” Ms. Rosenberg said. “I hope that U.S.F. is a test case for examining these issues.”

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