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FCC Issues Letter of Inquiry into Proposed KUSF Sale

Bike outside Phelan Hall shortly before KUSF studio was dismantled (Photo: J. Waits)

The fight over the future of University of San Francisco’s college radio station KUSF took an interesting turn yesterday when the FCC issued a “letter of inquiry” (PDF) about the proposed sale of the station to Classical Public Radio Network (CPRN).

The letter dated June 28, 2011 asks University of San Francisco and CPRN to provide further details about the pending sale and about the agreement (PDF) (known as a Public Service Operating Agreement) which is currently in place allowing CPRN to control the programming airing over KUSF 90.3 FM prior to the consummation of the station sale.

The letter states:

“As part of the transaction, Licensee and CPRN negotiated and executed a ‘Public Service Operating Agreement’ (‘PSOA’) pursuant to which CPRN provides programming to be broadcast on the Station prior to approval and consummation of the assignment. The terms of the PSOA present issues involving the parties’ compliance with Commission rules and policies concerning the operation and control of the Station. Accordingly, we direct Licensee and CPRN…to provide responses to the following inquiries, within thirty (30) calendar days from the date of this letter.”

The letter requests both USF and CPRN to provide extensive information about their working relationship and about the terms of the deal and PSOA. It also points to some areas where FCC violations may be occurring. Specifically, it would appear that the FCC is concerned about USF’s loss of control of its broadcast studio (an issue which was raised in a letter to the FCC from Friends of KUSF in support of their Petition to Deny the license sale), has questions about the educational purpose of CPRN’s programming, and is curious to gain more information about whether or not CPRN is authorized to fundraise for itself over a station licensed to another entity.

According to the letter, after USF and CPRN respond to this inquiry, “The petitioners and objectors will then have 10 days from the receipt of the response requested herein to comment on the response; counsel for the Licensee and CPRN must be served with any such comments.”

Here are excerpts from 4 of the 15 questions contained in the letter:

1) On a weekly basis…specify how many hours each week the Station broadcast programming supplied by CPRN, and where and when, specifically, that programming was produced.

a. Also, specify any dates and times when the Licensee preempted or rejected any CPRN programming.

b. Describe the ability of the Licensee (including availability of necessary personnel and equipment) to originate programming at the Station’s main studio location from the Effective date until the Response Date.

c. Describe the process by which and identify the individuals through whom the Licensee reviews and evaluates the programming supplied by CPRN for broadcast on the Station…

2) Provide a copy of all Documents from June 1, 2010, to the present, to or from Rev. Stephen Privett, Mr. Charles Cross, Donna Davis, Esq., and/or Mr. Stephen Runyon concerning the proposed sale of the Station, the PSOA or CPRN.

3) Provide a copy of all Documents from June 1, 2010, to the present, presented to, prepared for, or issued by the Licensee’s Board of Trustees concerning the proposed sale of the Station, the PSOA or CPRN.

4) Explain and provide the legal basis for the response to Section II, Item 3c and Section III, Item 3b of the Application that the Agreements involved in the transaction, including the PSOA, “comply fully with the Commission’s rules and policies.”

a. In connection with the response to Question 5, please address specifically how the airing of CPRN programming over the Station furthers the Licensee’s obligation to use the Station for the advancement of an educational program, as required by Section 73.503(a) of the Rules.

b. In connection with the response to Question 5, please address specifically how the monthly compensation described in Section 7 of the PSOA complies with the limits on consideration to NCE licensees contained in Section 73.503(c) of the Rules.

c. In connection with the response to Question 5, please address specifically how the PSOA does not violate the prohibition on third-party fundraising, given that the PSOA permits CPRN to be the Station’s sole programmer and to retain all donations, underwriting receipts, and other Station support during the PSOA term…

Alan Korn, one of the attorneys representing Friends of KUSF said that this inquiry letter from the FCC “means that the FCC is taking seriously the issues raised by Friends of KUSF in their petition, as well as many of the objections raised by others.” When I asked him if the presence of this letter makes it more likely that the FCC will conduct a hearing, Korn said, “Not necessarily.  But it does mean that the FCC has identified several issues that could form the basis for a hearing into whether or not the transfer of KUSF’s license to CPRN is in the public interest.”

Korn reiterated that he does not think that USF has fully complied with FCC rules. He said,

“The Petition and exhibits filed by Friends of KUSF identify numerous violations, including USF’s unlawful transfer of control over station content and operations to CPRN, USF’s lack of a qualified chief operator, their failure to monitor CPRN’s broadcasts, lack of EAS equipment at the main studio and, more recently, USF’s total dismantling of their main studio.

Their Public Service Operating Agreement with CPRN also appears to violate Section 73.503, which generally prohibits a non-commercial education station from accepting payment or other consideration from third parties (other than incidental costs) for programming their content.”

USF and CPRN certainly have their work cut out for them in the next 30 days, as they compile documentation to satisfy this request from the FCC. Stay tuned to see if this investigation will result in a public hearing about the license transfer.

***

Complete Radio Survivor coverage about the proposed sale of KUSF can be found here. I also wrote about my reaction to the KUSF shut down and to the Save KUSF Multi-Station Live Broadcast on Spinning Indie.  My article chronicling my KUSF field trip 2 years ago is housed there too. For more on the bigger picture of college radio station sell-offs, see my December 2009 piece “Cash-strapped Schools Turn Their Backs on College Radio“. And, for a quick overview of the situation at KUSF, see my article, “The Story Behind the KUSF Shutdown” on PopMatters.



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4 Responses to FCC Issues Letter of Inquiry into Proposed KUSF Sale

  1. Grassy Noel June 29, 2011 at 2:33 pm #

    Thanks for keeping this story on your radar and for keeping us all informed!

  2. phil allen July 9, 2011 at 11:33 am #

    My ‘check-in’ was heartening. Glad to see the FCC is actually taking a rare interest on behalf of the public interest, even though I have no use for ‘em..

  3. Realist July 11, 2011 at 8:00 am #

    Since when is punk rock, gangster rap and other music that appeals to the base interests of undesirables “in the public interest?” You hippies, dippies, flippies, zippies and deviates have other rock stations in San Francisco–us culture lovers and seniors only have KDFC. YOU JUST TRY TO TAKE AWAY OUR BEAUTIFUL MUSIC OF THE MASTERS FROM US–YOU’LL REGRET IT!

  4. Matthew Lasar July 11, 2011 at 8:57 am #

    Oh please . . . could we get a break on this baloney spread? You had KDFC long before KUSF got trashed. And it sounded pretty much like it sounds now.

    “Flippies and Zippies” ??

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