Radio Waves Whole lotta shakin' goin' on in Bay Area radio by Ben Fong-Torres San Francisco Chronicle Friday, February 4, 2011. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Greg Kihn and "Big Rick" Stuart are now at 102.1 FM. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Last month, on the Radio-Info site, industry watchers made "Radio Predictions for 2011." Prognosticators had "Live 105" switching to sports, the Bay Area either losing its one country station or gaining a second one, KGO adding an FM signal and JV of KYLD (Wild 94.9) starting his own channel on satellite radio.
But nobody saw this one coming.
On Jan. 18, KDFC, KUSF and San Jose's KUFX (K-Fox) began a multimillion-dollar radio version of musical chairs. By 10 a.m., the music stopped, and KUSF, one of the best-known college stations in the country, was left standing - and leaving the air.
Here's what happened: KUSF's owner, the University of San Francisco, sold its license and frequency, at 90.3 FM, for a reported $3.75 million. The buyer was the University of Southern California, which operates KUSC, a powerful noncommercial classical station in Los Angeles. USC was entrusted with classical music giant KDFC's call letters and intellectual property by its owner, Entercom. USC then converted KDFC into a non-commercial station at 90.3 FM, with announcers Hoyt Smith, Dianne Nicolini, Rik Malone and Ray White on board.
Entercom, which acquired KDFC in 2007, then turned its 102.1 frequency over to a rock format. Only a week before these switches, the company had announced its $9 million purchase of KUFX (98.5), the longtime classic rocker in San Jose, from a Clear Channel holding company. On Jan. 24, it installed KUFX at 102.1, led by morning DJ and rock artist Greg Kihn. The KUFX studios are now in San Francisco.
So: We lose, on terrestrial radio, a highly respected college station and a significant force in the music industry (it helped break such bands as Metallica and the B-52's). KUSF's menu ranged from iconoclastic DJ shows to community programs, and it broadcast the New York Metropolitan Opera. USF said the station, which had been on FM since 1977, would continue online.
Classical music goes to smaller signals (besides KUSF's 3,000-watt signal, USC purchased KNDL at 89.9 FM in Napa County). KDFC, according to Program Director (and President) Bill Lueth, is looking to expand its coverage of the South Bay and Contra Costa County as well as San Francisco. The station has added the Met to its schedule and is programming longer pieces, moving beyond what critics called "Classical Top 40."
And the classic rock radio war is on. KUFX goes up against KFOG (104.5), sister KSAN (the Bone at 107.7) and KKSF's the Band (103.7). Unlike Clear Channel's KKSF, which switched from smooth jazz to classic rock in spring 2009 with no live announcers (they are prerecorded), KUFX comes into town locked and loaded, led by program director Larry Sharp, who was PD of KSAN before being let go in late 2008. Before that, he programmed - yep: KUFX. Besides Kihn, KUFX has Tim Jeffreys (who's also assistant PD) following Kihn and longtime KFOG DJ "Big Rick" Stuart handling afternoon drive.
Kihn e-mailed: "Larry gave me my first job in radio in 1993 when 'K-Fox' was a little mom-and-pop station in San Jose. It's great to have grown along with the station, and now ... I'm reunited with Larry and part of an all-star lineup he has assembled. Call it manifest destiny for classic rock nation in the Bay Area. Call it whatever you want, but it is karmic."
Meantime, at USF, the karma was all bad. Staffers, most of them volunteers, were shocked and upset when the station was shut down, with no notice, at 10 a.m., and all personnel were locked out, except people involved in its transition to begin simulcasting KDFC later in the day. By then, "Save KUSF" campaigns were under way. A protest rally an evening later drew some 500 supporters, petitions were drafted to send to the FCC and SaveKUSF.org hit the Internet.
Why did all this happen? It begins with the state of classical music on the radio. KDFC was the last major commercial classical station standing; the others have gone noncommercial. Despite solid overall ratings, it has suffered in the world of Arbitron's Portable People Meter audience measurement methodology, which appears to favor rock stations. In the target age range of 25-54, KDFC was barely in the top 30.
And, as radio engineer Fred Krock notes, the Bay Area has "too many radio stations chasing after too few advertising dollars," due to geography. "No broadcast channels are located west of San Francisco. Therefore, all those frequencies are available for use in the Bay Area."
Entercom saved classical music radio by giving it to a caretaker. As for KUSF, its president, the Rev. Stephen Privett, who had entertained previous offers for the station, knew that it was a community treasure. But, he said, "Our primary mission is to our students. It is not to the community at large."
The university said that while "all KUSF staff will be offered similar positions at KUSF.org," the online station would "focus on the station's primary purpose - as a teaching laboratory for students." KUSF had been limited to 100 online listeners at a time; capacity will be increased to accommodate thousands. Some protesters argued that many KUSF listeners did not have online access.
At any rate, plans for KUSF online are in limbo. Some community programs may return, but, for now, most DJs "are not willing to support or do anything for the university," said Steve Runyon, KUSF faculty adviser and general manager. He told me that he and PD Trista Bernasconi were informed of the shutdown only an hour before the switch was pulled.
Jennifer Waits, a DJ who blogs about college radio (radio survivor.com), decried USF's "greed," saying she wished the school had explored selling its station to its volunteers, most of them nonstudents. "I also think the FCC needs to re-examine policies that are helping to facilitate the kill-off of independently owned radio stations," she said. "I wish 'Save KUSF' luck in fighting this."
R.I.P. Carter B. Smith, longtime radio personality (KRE, KSFO, KNBR, "Magic 61" and KABL) died Jan. 24 from brain cancer. He was 74. We will remember him in the next Radio Waves, and long after that.
Random notes: Morris Knight of KISQ (Kiss at 98.1) has been tapped to host the new version of "Dance Party" on KOFY (TV 20). The oldies "Bandstand"-type show ran in the '80s on TV 20, hosted by then-station owner James Gabbert. The show airs Sundays on KOFY (Cable 13) at 8 p.m. ... KMVQ, Movin' at 99.7 FM, is no longer Movin.' CBS Radio has rebranded it Now, reflecting its contemporary hits format. I'm just waiting for an oldies station to be called Then.
E-mail Ben Fong-Torres at firstname.lastname@example.org.