January 19, 2011

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This week the Bay Area loses two of its radio landmarks. On 102.1fm, , which has been broadcasting classical music since 1946, will be replaced by a simulcast of (“K-FOX”), a classic rock station in San Jose. And on 90.3 fm, KUSF, which has been one of the most active and community-involved free-form college radio stations in history, has gone silent. When the signal on 90.3 comes back on the air, it will carry the KDFC call letters and classical music programming. Meanwhile the old KUSF will continue in some form online. The new KDFC will also broadcast on 89.9, which is the former home of , a station licensed to .

This graphic, combined from three coverage maps at Radio-Locator.com, shows the before-and-after situation. One red line is KDFC’s old primary coverage area on 102.1. The other two are its new primary coverage areas on 90.3 and 89.9:

(More about signals below at *)

Since the 90.3 signal is tiny, and the 89.9 signal is far away, KDFC will be losing a great deal of coverage. Neither of the new signals serves the Peninsula, the South Bay or the East Bay beyond Berkely and Oakland. KUSF needs to start over online. On the FM band, it’s dead.

What happened was a three-way deal between , the and the . Entercom is the one of the largest owners of broadcast properties in the country, and an aggressive buyer of broadcast properties. So is USC, which has expanded its classical network from in Los Angeles to five stations spread from Morro Bay to Palm Springs. USF, like many universities, held a broadcast license that had monetary value on the open market while producing no income for the university itself.

According to Radio Ink and other sources, here’s how the deal went down:

  1. USF sold the 90.3 frequency to USC for $3.8 million.
  2. USC also bought KNDL for $2.8 million.
  3. Entercom, which owns KDFC, bought KUFX from the Clear Channel Aloha Trust, and will simulcast KUFX (still as “K-FOX”) over KDFC’s old 102.1 facility. Entercom will also give KDFC’s call letters and record collection to “A new San Francisco-based nonprofit.”

The press releases:

While it’s nice that KDFC has stayed alive, its move to much weaker signals is a far bigger loss for Bay Area classical music listeners than losses suffered by listeners when New York’s WQXR and Boston’s WCRB made similar moves. WQXR stayed on the air with a smaller signal from the same antenna, and WCRB moved to a same-size transmitter a couple dozen miles from the center of town, but most listeners could still get the stations. KDFC’s new facilities only cover a fraction of the population reached by the old signal. Essentially the new station covers San Francisco, and that’s it. More about coverage below*.

KDFC’s listenership is not small. The raw numbers are actually outstanding. According to Radio-Info.com (which leverages Arbitron), KDFC had 632,000 listeners in the most recent ratings period (December 2010), a notch above news-talk leader KGO (624,100). KDFC’s 3.2 average quarter hour (AQH) share was tied for #8 in the market, one notch above “sports giant” KNBR, which scored a 2.8. (KGO was #1 overall for most of the last six decades, and KNBR is an AM powerhouse that covers at least half of California by day and the whole West at night.) In fact, KDFC had better overall numbers than any other Entercom station in the Bay Area.

The problem for Entercom was the format. It’s hard to sell advertising for classical music stations, which have less inventory to offer (sports, news and popular music stations carry many more minutes of advertising per hour), and serve an older audience as well.

Judging from the KDFC statement on its website The Classical Public Radio Network () will hold the license, even though it closed down a few years ago, sort of. It also says,

The new KDFC has already begun to look for new signals to offer reception in the South Bay and the entire Bay Area for our around-the-clock classical programming.

We are happy to let you know Dianne Nicolini, Hoyt Smith, Rik Malone, and Ray White will continue as your on-air hosts, and KDFC’s partnerships with the Bay Area arts and culture community will continue to grow and thrive.

KDFC is the last major commercial classical station in America to make the transition to public radio. This move ensures that classical radio is sustainable for our community into the future. Since 1947, Bay Area classical fans have shown their passionate support for KDFC. Now more than ever, we’re grateful for that support as we begin the new era of Classical KDFC. Comments can be made to  comments at myclassical.org, or by phoning 415-546-8710. If you’d like to send a check as a Founder for the Future of KDFC, please send a check to:

The Classical Public Radio Network, 201 Third Street, 12th floor, San Francisco, CA 94103.

It’s signed by Bill Leuth, Vice President, KDFC. Bill and the other names he mentions are Bay Area classical radio institutions as well.

As for KUSF, maybe going online will be a form of liberation. As signals go, 90.3 barely covered San Francisco. The Internet covers the world. And Internet radio is growing fast. Aribitron now includes online streams in its ratings, which it wouldn’t do that if those streams were not signifiant. In San Francisco, KNBR’s stream had more than 50,000 listeners in November. In Los Angeles, KROQ’s stream had 67,900 listeners in December. Many more people every day are listening to radio on phones and other portable devices. Even Howard Stern, when he renewed with Sirius in December, said the future of satellite listening isn’t over satellite — it’s over the Internet. (Which Jeff Jarvis and I both told him, back when he was still making up his mind. Latelr Howard kindly gave a hat tip to Jeff on the air.)

And hey, KDFC can benefit from the same thing.

Here’s more from The Bay Citizen and the San Francisco Chronicle. And a rescue mission report at SF Weekly… And here’s the audio from a KQED Forum program on the matter. It says that KUSF is slated to become “an online-only training station for students.] Here’s a San Francisco Chronicle story on a gathering at USF at which “almost 500 backers” of KUSF came to confront Stephen A. Privett, the University President. The part that matters:

Privett said he made the decision because the station, dominated by outside volunteers, “was of minimal benefit to my students.”

“This was not a crass business decision about dollars,” Privett said. “This was about ensuring our programs involve our students. … Our primary mission is to our students, it is not to the community at large.”

Privett said some of the $3.75 million would be used to fund the student-led online station, with the rest going to other unspecified educational projects.

Well, “student-led” suggests that the community might still be involved.

For frequent updates follow @KUSF. and at SaveKUSF on Facebook. Feelings are not weak on this matter. KUSF is much loved by its community.

On January 20, I put up a new post suggesting that the KUSF community go for 87.7fm. I think it’s available.

It also amazes me (it’s still January 20) that this post and the next one have not yet received a single comment. Meanwhile my earlier post about Flickr now has 86 comments, and even the highly arcane Geology by Plane has 6. Could it be that the total number of people who care just isn’t that large? Not saying this is a bad thing, just that it’s an isolated one. So far 3,384 people say they like SaveKUSF on Facebook. But liking and doing are way different. As I suggest here, the best bet for doing isn’t trying to make a university turn down $3.8 million for something they clearly wish to unload. It’s to start something new.

* Signal stuff, for the technical: