Friday, May 6, 2016


Wednesday night the “other shoe” dropped at KUSP.  The Santa Cruz Sentinel reports [link] that the station’s foundation voted 41-27 to sell the FCC license. Also KUSP announced that the staff is being laid off as of today Friday 5/6/16.

Replacing the staff will be temporary reruns of shows or an automated music mix playing 24/7 while the station’s board searches for a new owner according to GM Bonnie Primbsch.

In our Wednesday 5/4 post [link], we raised the possibility of an immediate sale. USC Radio, owners of Classical KDFC in San Francisco are likely to pursue the license as they did in early 2015. We also raised the possibility that NPR News station KAZU, Pacific Grove, could try to purchase KUSP and operate both stations preserving local ownership and the Triple A format.  But it appears KUSP needs to sell quickly so a buyer with cash will probably scoop up the license.


Thousand Oaks, California, sits just west of Los Angeles in a place of beautiful hills and valleys. Radio reception can be dicey and LA stations have a lot of listeners. These factors make it tough for an exurban station to get a foothold. Not KCLU. The NPR News station is the top noncommercial station in two markets: Oxnard/Ventura and Santa Barbara.

Now KCLU can invest more in news programming. The station recently announced a $1 million gift from station members Linda and Dennis Fenton to establish The Linda and Dennis Fenton KCLU Radio News Endowment. Funds will be used to hire personnel and enhance equipment, programming and production.

Linda and Dennis Fenton

Linda and Dennis Fenton are among the founders of Amgen, a biotechnology startup that is now a leader in biotech research. The Fenton’s have actively supported the station since it debuted in 1994.


As we reported in January [link] KCLU is one of the fastest growing NPR News stations in the nation. According to Nielsen Audio’s Fall 2015 estimates, KCLU had an estimated 109,000 weekly listeners, an increase of 24% from the previous year. KCLU also has significant listening in the San Luis Obispo market. At right is a map of KCLU’s coverage areas.

KCLU’s news gets national attention and often beats LA stations in award competitions. Expect more recognition in the future.


Not all that long ago, KCLU at California Lutheran was one of five significant noncom stations licensed to Lutheran Universities. Now it is one of only two that survive.

• In 2004 St. Olaf College sold Classical WCAL, Northfield, to American Public Media (APM) for $10.5 million.  Today it is 89.3 The Current.

• In 2009 APM took over College Rocker KAUR at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, SD. It is now a fulltime repeater of MPR News.

• Last year Pacifica Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, announced its intention to sell KPLU to rival KUOW for $8 million. KPLU listeners are now trying to raise enough money to sell the license to a community group that is determined to save KPLU’s jazz programming.

Besides KCLU, the only other Lutheran licensee is WVIK [link] which serves the Quad Cities market from Augustana College (no relation to Augustana University) in Rock Island, Illinois.

Thursday, May 5, 2016


WBEZ’s second channel Vocalo [link] will reach more Chicago area listeners soon thanks to a plan crafted by Chicago Public Media (CPM) and WDCB. Chicago Tribune columnist/blogger Robert Feder reports [link] that the two organizations have solved an interference issue that has limited Vocalo’s coverage area.

Vocalo is an “urban music discovery” station created about a decade ago to serve younger and more diverse listeners than NPR News on WBEZ. Vocalo’s music mix continues add more Triple A to its ethnic music mix.  Vocalo also airs issue-oriented talk programming.

Since 2014 CPR has been using FM translator W217BM 91.1 FM to repeat Vocalo’s programming originating on WBEZ’s HD-2 channel. The agreement allows W217BM to increase power its power from 10-watts to 99-watts.  The transmitter is located atop the John Hancock Center.

A map of Vocalo’s new coverage area via 91.1 is on the right.

In exchange, jazz station WDCB’s programming will now be broadcast CPM-owned WRTE 90.7. This will provide additional signal coverage for suburban WDCB. 


Because of budget cuts to Illinois’ University system, WSIE in suburban St. Louis will add additional Blues programming to expand its listening base.  According to Doug McIlhagga, the executive director of marketing and communications for Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville says”

 “We've not been able to monetize the jazz format so we've chosen to expand that a little bit by adding blues.”

If the new programming doesn’t increase listener support, the university told WSIE management that more drastic measures will be imposed by university. News reports say that WSIE has three years to sink or swim. If the new plan doesn’t float, the university says it might sell WSIE’s license.

WSIE’s funding crunch comes as a budget impasse continues at the Illinois statehouse. Lawmakers have not been able to agree on a statewide spending plan for 10 months and that has prompted public universities to make tough financial decisions. WSIE is currently  running promos every hour to “keep WSIE on the air.”


Wichita’s NPR News station KMUW 89.1 FM [link] has announced that the station will be moving soon to a new location in the city’s historic Old Town area. GM Debra Fraser said the new spot was chosen because of the popularity of Old Town. 

Debra Fraser

“It’s a great place to reach the community,” Fraser days. “Sitting in Old Town we can engage more…We want that to be what we do all the time.”

The new space has been under construction for 10 months. The construction includes new tables that the station made from eight sections of bowling lanes from Wichita’s Thunderbird Bowl, which closed last year.

As a nonprofit, Fraser says the station has to be smart about resources:

“When it comes to fancy things, we can get a little scrappy.”

Wednesday, May 4, 2016


On Monday [link] we reported on the dire situation at KUSP, Santa Cruz. Just seven months after KUSP changed its format to Triple A, the end of the station as is now may be near.

KUSP just finished MAYDAY!, an emergency fundraising effort. The goal was to raise $300,000 so the station can keep operating for the next six months. KUSP received only about a third of the money needed. Now it is up to KUSP’s Board of Directors to decide on the way forward. KUSP’s Board will next meet on Wednesday, May 4, at 6 pm at the Community Foundation building in Santa Cruz.

KUSP has informed listeners that current programming will be provided through Saturday May 7, three days after the pivotal Board meeting. KUSP is now operating the station at what they say is minimum expense.  They are still trying to raise money but the uncertainty about the future makes it a tough sell to listeners.

The KUSP Board will like look at a menu of options including selling the license and the station’s worldly possessions. The Board is dealing with a debt of over $800,000 caused by years of denial, inept governance and wishful thinking. The estimated sale value of KUSP is around $1 million.


OPTION #1: Play for more time.

As KUSP has done before, postpone making a decision. If the past predicts the future, this is a likely choice. Unless the financial pressure is too overwhelming, the Board might decide to keep going with a cheaper version of what KUSP is doing now. With this choice, KUSP will keep the Triple A format and have a less professional sound until an eventual decision is made.

OPTION #2: Sell the license to USC Radio.

USC radio owns KDFC in nearby San Francisco. According to several reports, USC offered a million dollars for KUSP in early 2015. USC certainly has the money to make this purchase. Under this scenario KUSP would become a fulltime classical station that repeats KDFC. This is similar to what USC did when it acquired KDB, Santa Barbara a few years ago.  This is a very likely choice.

OPTION #3: Sell the license to KAZU.

One of the many reasons for KUSP’s past problems is the rise of NPR News station KAZU. Over the years KUSP tried to compete with KAZU with NPR programming.  KAZU became the dominant NPR voice in the market; KUSP dithered and failed.  Discussions were held between KAZU and KUSP about a merger. It was never pursued because of KUSP’s dysfunctional governance system.

Maybe now KAZU can purchase (not merge) KUSP and keep the Triple A format.  Triple A remains the best option for KUSP other than Classical.  Combining the stations would reduce operating expenses and give the Triple A format time to establish itself.  To me, this is the best option but I have no idea if KAZU could get the money to make it happen.

OPTION #4: Sell the license to the highest bidder, probably EMF

There is one noncommercial broadcaster who has the dough and maybe the desire to buy KUSP: The Educational Media Foundation (EMF).  In July 2015 EMF paid over $21.7 million for Classical noncom WKCP in Miami. EMF has two national satellite-delivered Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) formats: K-LOVE and Air1.

EMF owns 90.7 KSRI in Santa Cruz, which plays Air1 format. But K-LOVE is available only on an FM translator with limited market coverage. EMF might be tempted to pay top dollar because KUSP’s four FM translators would likely come with th deal. Don’t be surprised if this happens.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016


Noncommercial Triple A radio stations have lots of good reasons to avoid Pay-For-Play relationships with music labels.

First, unless a sponsor credit is aired, it is illegal to play tunes in exchange for money or other “consideration.”  Second is that Pay-For-Play violates a core attribute for listener-supported radio: That the station is a trusted source by listeners. Without trust and integrity, the noncom dynamic falls apart.

 Last week noncom Triple A consultant and blogger Paul Marszalek wrote on his blog atTheTop22 site [link]:

Whether it’s money funneled through indie promoters or the more legal demanding of time buys, a few radio stations are engaging in the selling of spins…Multiple reports to TheTop22 tell of a few radio stations engaging in, and there’s no real other way to put it, pay-for-play arrangements.

I’m talking about cash. We know of one major-market radio station that is strong-arming time buys related to song adds.

Marszalek does not name names and he does not mention noncommercial stations. Since many Triple A stations are noncoms, the reader should assume that some are doing what Marszalek is talking about.

Paul Marszalek is someone who I take seriously.  He has held senior management and programming positions at VH1 Television, KFOG/San Francisco, and WXRT/Chicago. In 2003 he co-founded Media Mechanics with partners Mike Henry and Ben Manilla. Noncom Triple A stations and independent music companies have greatly benefited from Marszalek’s unique perspective.

Marszalek says Triple A stations are particularly vulnerable to Pay-For-Pay enticements:

The Triple A Format is a loose collection of stations that lean in different music directions — some lean alternative, some lean Hot AC, and some lean Americana… the sheer number of eligible songs from across multiple genres competing for limited airplay slots. [This] includes a number of mom & pop smaller market stations – and even spins on small-market stations can impact the chart…songs hit lunar rotation in exchange for payment via independent promoters.


Here is the way the radio and music industries work together:

Music companies (often referred to as “labels”) provide free copies of tunes to radio stations.  Station programmers consider the tunes and pick a few for airplay. The tunes go into the “rotation” for a certain number of “spins” – plays per week.  A noncom PD who asked not to be named in this article said at his station “heavy rotation” means tunes get between 14 – 16 spins per week. A song in “light rotation” might get five plays per week.

Music trade publications use popularity charts based the number of spins specific tunes get by reporting stations.  At right is a portion of the most recent Billborad/Nielsen Triple A chart. Note that the chart is built on the number of plays/spins stations on “the panel” report in given week. “The panel” consists of a limited number of stations chosen because of their trendsetting reputation and size of audience reached.

The total reach of a tune is determined by multiplying the number of spins by the number of estimated average-quarter-hour listeners. So, on the chart, Ophelia by The Lumineers received 690 plays during the past week on stations in the panel.  This yields a weekly audience of 2,101,000 people. Music companies use this information to get other stations to play a tune of increase the spins.

What if someone games the system?  Maybe a certain station reports a tune has been played 16 times when it actually has been played 4 times?

What if a music company offers an exclusive interview with a well-known artist in exchange for increased plays?

What if a company offers a cash-strapped PD a free room at a conference hotel in exchange for adding a tune?

All of these situations have happened and are probably happening now with “ a nod and a wink.”

I talked with several noncom PDs who were glad to talk off the record but did not want to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.  One PD told me:

“We don’t participate in these relationships but we know there are people who do.  Every time I add a tune to our rotation I know I am doing someone a favor. I don’t want anything back but the temptation is always there.”

Monday, May 2, 2016


Just seven months after KUSP changed its format to Triple A, the end of the station may be near. KUSP GM Bonnie Primbsch says it is up to KUSP’s Board to decide what happens next.

We covered the saga of the community station extensively in 2015.  In November we reported [link] that KUSP, in an effort to save itself, dropped NPR News and switched to Triple A music guided by folks from the Public Media Company (PMC). The format change came after years of infighting and denial by a dithering, dysfunctional Board of Directors.

As respected blogger Michael Lazar correctly observed last week on Radio Survivor [link]:

In a sense, KUSP’s biggest problem isn’t money, it’s time. The question is how long would it take to convince Santa Cruz and the Monterey region of the obvious: that this is a great thing…this idea totally works. The problem is how to get enough people to figure that out, and very soon

 Lazar knows a lot about KUSP and community radio.  He is a longtime resident of Santa Cruz who saw KUSP’s neo-Pacifica format and governance crumble under its own weight. Lazar became a believer in the new indie music approach as a way to save the station:

Lazar: KUSP has become a really nice contemporary rock/pop signal, with live deejays playing all kinds of cool music I’ve never heard of. I listen to it all the time. I’ve also given money.

True enough.  But has the new sound had enough time to establish itself and become sustainable? We will let you know what happens.


Bonnie Primbsch
 In March, KUSP GM Bonnie Primbsch sent out a MAYDAY! alert. She said if KUSP is unable to reach a fundraising goal of $300,000 by the end of April, the station will be forced to shut down.

As Saturday, April 30, KUSP announced on its Facebook page that is has raised about a third of the goal:

Mayday update: $110,000 from 1,043 contributions. So many thanks! KUSP's board and foundation will determine what options are now available to us. Stay tuned to see what happens.

Last week Primbsch told KION-TV News [link]:

"There are no reserves. The reason why we did this drive is because we are facing the real possibility of being at cash zero at the end of this month. [Then] our best hope [will be] to sell the signal to pay off our debts — then what listeners will hear is not likely to be indie or local, but something piped in from elsewhere.”



I appreciate your comments about last week’s five part series about public radio talk and interview programs.  Last Friday [link] we published a list of talk programs on 61 stations. We asked for listings of additional shows that met our criteria: Station-based talk and interview programs that air “between the tent poles” for at least three days a week.  We received info about three shows and a handful of corrections for programs on our list.

If you are associated with a talk program that meets our criteria, please let us know at We will publish the updated list soon as well as more discussion and research on these programs.



 College Broadcasters, Inc. (CBI), the nations most respected college radio organization, has posted information about this year’s National Student Production Awards [link].  The annual competition is a showcase for student work in 24 categories in audio, video and multimedia - including promos, news reporting, comedy, entertainment, sports, best DJ, station imaging and website design.  

Up to four Finalists will be chosen for each category. Winners and Finalists will be announced at CBI’s National Student Electronic Media Convention in Philadelphia October 20 – 22, 2016.  Convention details are at [link]. If have questions about the Awards, please contact Steven Hames, Awards Coordinator, at