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After three decades, KUSF goes off the air

Edna Barron calls into the station after being locked out.Deia de BritoEdna Barron calls into the station after being locked out.

KUSF 90.3 FM, a non-commercial college radio station that began nearly 35 years ago at the University of San Francisco, was shut down yesterday morning without any warning to its 200 volunteers and most of its employees.

The deal came as a complete surprise to Howard Ryan at about 10 a.m. The music producer and DJ had just finished announcing to listeners the upcoming on-air appearance of San Francisco-based Pickpocket Ensemble and was playing a record when he realized he was the only one listening.

A few minutes later, Trista Bernascone, KUSF’s program director, greeted Ryan at the door to the studio to tell him that the transmitter was being shut down and that the station had been sold, he said. Volunteers and employees say no one involved in the decision has agreed to talk.

A press release from the university, written in small print and offering the only explanation of what was happening, had been taped to the doors of the studio located in the basement of Phelan Hall. It stated that "effective immediately," the station is moving to an online-only format and the university has assigned the spot on the dial to Classical Public Radio Network, owned by the University of Southern California.

In a deal with Entercom Communications, one of the five largest broadcasting companies in the U.S., the University of Southern California is taking over KDFC 102.1, San Francisco's classical music station, and broadcasting it from 90.3, KUSF's signal since 1977.

The Federal Communications Commission has not yet approved the $3.75 million sale, the press release states. Volunteers are hoping to stop it before it is approved. They've organized a meeting and a protest today at 7 p.m. at Fromm Hall.

Before security escorted staff and volunteers out of the station and locked them out, Ryan searched for the contact information of listeners who had won free tickets on his show so that he could call them and tell them what had happened. “We weren’t even able to sign off, thank the community, or let any listeners know what was going on,” Ryan said.

The KUSF website was taken down and staff and volunteers have since relied on Twitter to get information out. On Twitter yesterday morning, DJ Carolyn Keddy wrote, “Just showed up @kusf to my show and the doors are locked. USF has sold the station. Management was on it. They’re keeping all our records.”

Many volunteers left their personal belongings in lockers at the station, but security officials have said that they won’t be granted access for several days. Yesterday afternoon, volunteers stood outside the studio's glass doors and looked inside, where several people they had never seen were working in the engineering room. Security officers arrived shortly and told them they could stand outside the station as long as they didn't cause trouble.

"I have all my production stuff in there," said Edna Barron, who studied performing arts and social justice at the University of San Francisco and began working at the station six years ago. "I'm afraid they're going to throw it out."

Gary McDonald, the media contact listed on the press release, did not return repeated phone calls. But according to the Bay Citizen, McDonald said that two of the four full-time KUSF employees knew about the deal that was sealed on Friday and that discussions had been happening for the past few months. McDonald said the KUSF employees in the know had maintained silent because of “confidential legal reasons.”

As for the reasons behind the sale of KUSF, McDonald told the San Francisco Chronicle, "Through the years, as fewer students were involved, we were subsidizing a community radio station. The bottom line is, we're here to teach students. We can still do that."

The volunteers who have kept the station going are made up of students, alums and community members.

Dave Ford, a KUSF volunteer and a media studies major at USF, said in the past few years, the university has closed down a number of student resources at Phelan Hall – a bookstore, a drama club, a television studio, and a student newspaper. There had been rumors that the station would be changing locations, but shutting down was completely unexpected, volunteers said.

A group of KUSF volunteers and employees tried to meet with university officials yesterday afternoon, first visiting the USF President Stephen Privett's office without any luck and then heading to the office of Charles Cross, the Vice President of Business and Finance, who after a brief interaction with the group asked the secretary to call security to have them removed from the office.

The press release stated that KUSF staff would be offered similar positions at KUSF.org. But Irwin Swirnoff, another music director at the station, said he is skeptical about the move.

“The space that we’ve been told we’re going to move into is not even a quarter of the space that we have now," he said. Among the losses, he said, are a library that he calls "one of the most impressive music libraries in the country".

Ford, the volunteer promotions director, said he chose to attend the USF over other universities because of KUSF's strong reputation. Barron said her decision was similiar.

"I came here because I wanted to be in radio," she said.

KUSF began broadcasting 24 hours a day in 1981. The station has garnered attention as one of the first stations to play punk rock and for helping groups like the B-52’s, Primus and Metallica gain exposure.

“It kind of broke punk rock back in the day and has been a real mainstay of experimental radio for a long time and the scope and the landscape of radio in the Bay Area is totally changed now in one morning’s effort,” Ryan said.

The station is also known for its cultural programming, which featured shows in over ten different languages throughout the week and has received awards from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

KUSF is not the only station to lose its signal. The University of Southern California is also purchasing 89.9 FM, a North Bay Christian station that will now broadcast classical music.

As part of the agreement, Entercom Communications, one the five largest radio broadcasting companies in the U.S., now has the rights to San Jose-based KUFX 98.5 and 102.1 in San Francisco. The classic rock from KUFX 98.5 will be broadcast on both stations, making it the first classic rock superstation in the Bay Area, according to a press release from KUSC and Entercom Communications.



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