In honor of Sunday’s 4-year anniversary of the shutdown of University of San Francisco’s college radio station KUSF’s 90.3 FM signal, it seemed like the perfect occasion to visit KUSF-in-Exile/San Francisco Community Radio (SFCR).
But first, a little bit of background…
January 18, 2011 Shutdown of KUSF 90.3 FM
Just before 10am on Tuesday, January 18, 2011, KUSF’s DJ Schmeejay got a tap on the shoulder and was directed to leave the studio. Unbeknownst to him, the college radio station (see my 2009 tour) was about to be taken off the air in preparation for its transfer to new owners.
We soon learned that University of San Francisco planned to sell the 90.3 FM license to Classical Public Radio Network as part of a complicated deal that would move formerly commercial classical music station KDFC to non-commercial 90.3 FM.
KUSF volunteers, fans, and supporters were outraged and a long battle ensued (which we chronicled) over the future of 90.3 FM. Protests, public meetings, letter writing campaigns, rallies at San Francisco’s City Hall, and legal filings were just part of the overall effort to keep KUSF over the terrestrial airwaves.
KUSF-in-Exile Launches in March, 2011
By March, 2011, in order to keep the radio spark going, KUSF-in-Exile launched from an off-campus location at Light Rail Studios in San Francisco’s Bayview District. Originally supported by WFMU (which offered to host the webstream initially), KUSF-in-Exile was a tangible way for KUSFers to continue doing radio.
After the old KUSF studio was demolished in May, 2011, students were without a radio station of any form on campus until the relaunch of student radio station KUSF.org in October 2012. Some traveled to KUSF-in-Exile in order to keep doing radio. In June, 2012, the FCC granted the assignment of the KUSF 90.3 FM license to Classical Public Radio Network, but not without chastising them for some misdeeds (to the tune of a collective $50,000 penalty). Today, Classical Public Radio Network airs KDFC-branded programming over 90.3 FM, with new official letters of KOSC.
Following the license transfer, legal appeals continued.
Touring KUSF-in-Exile/San Francisco Community Radio in 2015
I’d visited KUSF-in-Exile a number of times over the past 4 years, but never wrote up an official “field trip” post. So, inspired by the anniversary of the KUSF shutdown, I stopped by KUSF-in-Exile/San Francisco Community Radio in order to see a bit of DJ Schmeejay’s guest stint of the “Sunday Night Spotlight” program.
As mentioned earlier, DJ Schmeejay was on the air when KUSF was shut down on January 18, 2011, so it was only fitting to have him return to the studio for the anniversary. He’d been a regular DJ on KUSF-in-Exile in the past, but, until Sunday night, hadn’t done a show there since June, 2013.
I got to KUSF-in-Exile/SFCR on Sunday, January 18, 2015 at around 5:30pm, soon after DJ Schmeejay had arrived to prepare for his show. DJ Terry Dactyl was on the air, doing her “Soul Shakedown” program. We all chatted for a bit in the studio and were then rousted by the sound of the loud studio phone ringing during one of Terry Dactyl’s mic breaks. I was told that they have explicit instructions to not turn the ringer down or off, as there are fears that DJs won’t notice phone calls coming in.
It turns out that the phone call was from another visitor, who was at the door of the station. Jeff, a long-time KUSF listener, was just stopping by to show his support for the station. He mentioned that he had every KUSF promotional item ever produced and shared memories of listening to the station back when he was a student at USF.
I hadn’t been to KUSF-in-Exile for a few years, but it was largely the same, although it seemed a bit cozier with more artwork on the walls. There are a couple of couches, some sticker-covered cabinets from the KUSF days, shelves housing CDs, LPs, and 7″ records, and some fun pop culture artifacts (including the often-spied radio station skull).
The station is housed in an open studio that connects with the rehearsal/recording space Light Rail Studios (which is the station’s landlord). Because of that, there’s often an opportunity for recording bands to pop in to the station to do an interview or live set.
At 6pm DJ Schmeejay launched into his show, starting things off with the very track by Vangelis that was cut off mid-way through on January 18, 2011. Following that, he played a slowed down version of George Michael’s “Father Figure,” playing the 45rpm single at 33rpm. It was a spooky take on the song and he dedicated it to former USF President Father Privett.
I asked DJ Schmeejay how it felt to be on the air 4 years after the shutdown and if he was thinking about that day. He told me that despite his snarky on-air dedication, he really wasn’t dwelling too much on the past. He said, “I’m not bitter anymore,” adding, “I’m not really hung up on that day 4 years ago.”
Getting back into the swing of things after an 18 month absence from radio, DJ Schmeejay talked about his love of radio. He said that it felt “strangely familiar” to be back and told me that he was excited to pull records for his show and said he was “happy to bring them out of the house.” On Sunday night’s show he played nothing but vinyl records, ranging from a lovely vintage French 45rpm by a child pop prodigy to Buffalo Bill’s Barbershop Quartet to some pieces by more familiar names like Ofra Haza and Bow Wow Wow.
Having been off the air for awhile, DJ Schmeejay arrived to find that his computer log-in credentials had expired. Because of that, he kept an old-school paper playlist of his tracks, although most KUSF-in-Exile playlists are archived on Spinitron.
Although initially known as KUSF-in-Exile, the station is also called San Francisco Community Radio (SFCR), the official name of the non-profit group that is hoping to be awarded a new low power FM (LPFM) license in San Francisco.
San Francisco Community Radio Forum Q&A
There was wide-ranging discussion about the station during a 2-hour “Forum Q&A” (listen to a podcast of it here) that aired right after DJ Schmeejay’s show. I tuned in after leaving the station and heard a bit more about the station’s LPFM plans and about the current state of the station.
During the forum, the participants talked about how there were a total of 8 groups that applied for the same LPFM frequency of 102.5 FM (see more details about the original applicants in our post from 2013) in San Francisco and that it’s now down to 4 groups in competition.
In addition to applying for LPFM, KUSF-in-Exilers are still exploring other options to get back on the air. A legal petition to stop the KUSF sale is still in limbo and there’s also the chance that they could acquire another full power frequency in the San Francisco Bay Area.
San Francisco Community Radio’s Chief Engineer Bill Ruck (who was at KUSF since its beginnings in the 1970s) said during the forum that right now they are simply trying to encourage more people to join the station. He pointed out that there are still “holes in the schedule” and said, “we’re looking for people to come and join us.”
As far as the current lack of a terrestrial signal for KUSF-in-Exile, DJ Carolyn Keddy mentioned during the forum that it’s definitely cut down on the number of phone calls from listeners. In the KUSF 90.3 FM days, she would get calls throughout her show and said that now she’ll “…get a few calls” and that it’s “nothing like it used to be.” Despite that, she said, “I think people are listening” and she shared some anecdotes about getting more in-person feedback these days about her shows.
I’ve been confused about what to call the station, as it’s referred to as both KUSF-in-Exile and San Francisco Community Radio. Additionally, the website SaveKUSF.org is still the portal to the station’s live stream and there are multiple Twitter handles in use (including @kusf). During the forum, DJ Irwin Swirnoff asked whether or not there were obstacles associated with using the KUSF name still.
SFCR member Damin Esper acknowledged that “it’s hard to build a new brand again,” saying that “Save KUSF” is more well-known than SFCR. He said that they are trying to build awareness of the SFCR name both on-air and at station events.
As they wrapped up the forum, the group shared a collective hope that SFCR/KUSF-in-Exile will receive a construction permit for a new LPFM station by the end of this year.
Thanks so much to DJ Schmeejay for letting me crash his show. It was great to be back at the station. It’s hard to believe, but this is my 72nd radio station field trip report, with more to come soon (three more in the Seattle area, plus a college radio station in San Francisco). See my most recent field trips on Radio Survivor and see all of my station field trips on Spinning Indie.
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