KUSF staff devastated after sale of radio station

Photo by Jenifer Wofford. http://wofflings.wofflehouse.com/?m=200811

Yesterday we reported on the sudden shutdown of college radio station KUSF. Employees and volunteers arrived at work yesterday morning to find the locks changed and their station broadcasting only static. The University of San Francisco, which owns the frequency, sold 90.3 FM in a closed-door deal to the University of Southern California's Classical Public Radio Network for a reported $3.75 million. KALW’s Deia de Brito spoke with KUSF staff, who said they were devastated by the news.

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DEIA DE BRITO: Howard Ryan was in the middle of hosting his music show yesterday morning when the signal suddenly went dead. His program director told him that the station, KUSF, had been sold to the University of Southern California. Minutes later, security guards escorted Ryan out, along with everyone else in the building.

HOWARD RYAN: They just came in and asked me to step out while there was a record on and shut the transmitter off. We weren’t even able to sign off or thank the community or let the listeners know what was going on. We were literally the last people to know.

Ryan and other station workers spent the day trying to figure out what had happened. They tried to meet with the university president, but he wasn’t there. They were told to call a university spokesman, but he was unavailable and didn’t return their calls. So Ryan and four others marched into the office of university Finance Vice President Charles Cross to demand answers.

IRWIN SWIRNOFF: We were turned off the air today without given any information.

CHAD HEIMANN: We were thrown out.

CHARLIE CROSS: Why are you asking me? What do I have to do with it?

SWIRNOFF: Well somebody made a decision that we weren’t involved with.

ANDRE TORREZ: Someone made a decision above us, and didn’t notify us.

CROSS: Well it wasn’t me, so please leave my office.

SWIRNOFF: Who was it?

CROSS: Why don’t you figure that out? I’m not at liberty to talk about it!

The confrontation escalated, and Cross eventually called security and slammed the door on his visitors.

Ryan says it felt like the university didn’t care at all about the 35-year-old station.

RYAN: It kind of broke punk rock back in the day and has been a real mainstay of free-form, experimental radio for a long time. And the scope and the landscape of radio in the Bay Area’s totally changed now.

The university’s deal with USC isn’t just about KUSF. It also allows broadcast giant Entercom Communications to start airing classic rock on two Bay Area frequencies. The swaps mean that USC will take over not only KUSF’s spot on the dial, but also the frequency of a North Bay Christian station. Meanwhile, the future of KUSF is uncertain. The University of San Francisco issued a statement saying the station will move to an online-only format. That’s provided the sale is approved by the FCC.

In San Francisco, I’m Deia de Brito for Crosscurrents.

Station employees and volunteers will protest at the university at 7 p.m. tonight. Friends of KUSF are calling for a moratorium on the sale to give them a chance to make a bid for the station.

Deia de Brito is a reporter at the U.C. Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.