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Can we do better than sell KUSP to the Classical Public Radio Network?

Editor’s note: Shortly after I posted my first story about the proposed sale of KUSP in Santa Cruz to the Classical Public Radio Network, Rachel Anne Goodman and I began corresponding about the prospect. Goodman teaches journalism at Cabrillo College in Aptos. By her own description she has “been a radio host on one station or another since 1981” and served as Director and Managing Editor for NPR’s Peabody Award winning series The DNA Files. I asked Goodman to write an opinion piece on the KUSP situation, which she kindly did. It appears below.

 – Matthew Lasar

Rachel Anne Goodman

Rachel Anne Goodman

On Thursday afternoon I got an email from Charlie Lange, host of KUSP’s blues show for the past 38 years.  KUSP’s foundation was voting to negotiate sale of the station to CPRN, the Classical Public Radio Network.  Voting? Yes, voting themselves right out of business.  Why? Because the station was bleeding red ink ($700,000 and counting) and its creditors were getting restless.

If the sale goes through, listeners in California’s central coast will tune in to CPRN’s “musak on prozac” from Los Angeles instead of live broadcasts from the Monterey Jazz Festival and vibrant local shows.  KUSP is one of the rare community licensees in the nation, built from the ground up by volunteers and donors over 43 years.  When Pacifica radio was on the rocks, listeners in Berkeley chained themselves to the station doors. Will KUSP go quietly away, or will there be a fight to keep it local?  The tough part is, KUSP hasn’t sounded local for a while.

KUSP’s slide toward an all-NPR format has been going on since 2007. As a co-founder of “Talk of the Bay” I was part of “the great purge” when some 30 volunteers were replaced by satellite programs. Nothing against Click and Clack, but now they are heard three times over the weekend on two stations in our listening area. In fact, this mess can be traced to the board of KAZU giving its license to Cal State Monterey Bay, which went all-NPR, and KUSP responded by running even more of the same shows and overextending its budget. How NPR thought having two identical stations in the same market served anyone only they can answer.

On Monday, May 4th, despite scrambling to get the word out, and despite a crowd of dismayed listeners, the foundation voted 47-11 in favor of beginning sale negotiations with CPRN. The letter of intent they were voting on was to expire in just 10 days. Why all the rush? Listeners, donors and even the station’s own Community Advisory Board were taken by surprise by the sale proposal and were still in shock as the vote was announced. How could the station board and management have let things get this bad? And why did they not turn to their listeners for help earlier?

If the sale goes through, KUSP will get its debts covered, and be left with nothing more than a call sign, a record collection and maybe a hundred thousand dollars. At the meeting board members speculated that they might purchase a smaller frequency and go back on the air. The one they mentioned reaches a tiny fraction of the audience of 88.9 and would be crumbs compared to the current signal.

After the meeting I spoke with Mark Hand, the consultant hired by KUSP to seek partners and/or buyers for the ailing station. I asked if a local buyer had been explored. He said he had been spurned by attempts to partner with KAZU and KZSC and later with KCRW. Hand seemed to think one silver lining to the sale going public might be an angel investor/donor/buyer coming to the rescue from the local community at the 11th hour.

At Monday’s meeting there was no equivocation on the community’s part. They do not want the 88.9 license to leave local control and they want locally relevant programming. After all, KUSP was built by local volunteers and local pledge and donor dollars. But the question remains: Who will entertain paying off the stations’ debt and coming up with a model that breaks even while the station is in negotiation for a sale to another partner? The area is starting to pick up the retired Google executives and there are wealthy donors living here who understand the value of a local media powerhouse like KUSP.  What if a local angel investor decided to be a hero for the central coast?  Would attempts to get a local buyer end up as a bidding war with CPRN? USC has deep pockets and wants this last hole in their coverage of California to be filled with purchase of the large KUSP broadcasting footprint.  It is going to take thinking way outside the box on this one, but locals have been creative before. Just look at our mini tech boom going on .

KUSPWhat if NPR forgave the $400,000 in back payments? What if local volunteers staffed most of the airtime, while moving the station to cheaper digs? What if a skeleton crew could run it until it recovered? Would pledge dollars still come in sufficiently to create a new model?  If NPR programs are cut back, but not eliminated, what is the balance point between pledge dollars, listeners and overhead?

Surprisingly, none of the board or staff had crunched numbers on alternative models. They floated four other “options” at the meeting, one of which was “cut costs” the other “go dark” and another “go bankrupt”. Hardly viable options.  It appears most of their energy, time and consultant money has gone toward looking for solutions outside the community, including seeking buyers in Los Angeles. The airwaves of 88.9 are a precious local resource and the local board its stewards.  Can better caretakers be found that would keep it local and viable?

A group of programmers and concerned listeners is trying to ad hoc organize alternative options that might save the license. However, without the management putting off the negotiation while other plans can be made, the station appears to be heading for a sale. If people want to help keep KUSP in local hands they can write to the station.  Ask them to postpone any negotiations with CPRN until alternative plans have been fleshed out. If you know a local potential buyer who would leave the station in local control and content, have them contact the station.   To contact the board: http://kusp.org/boards.shtml.

Please contact me and I’ll put you in touch with those working on this issue.

– Rachel Anne Goodman

 


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11 Responses to Can we do better than sell KUSP to the Classical Public Radio Network?

  1. klewis May 9, 2015 at 10:14 am #

    KUSP hired Mark Hand, a partner at CPRN (the potential buyer) and leader at Pubkic Radio Capital/Media — a group which has equated NCE licenses to ‘beachfront property” to consult … on a sale … to CPRN? How does that work?

    And, what is the hurry? The original by-laws prevent members from being held responsible for the debt. Why not try negotiating with NPR, knowing the license is worth more on the open market?

    “After the meeting I spoke with Mark Hand, the consultant hired by KUSP to seek partners and/or buyers for the ailing station. I asked if a local buyer had been explored. He said he had been spurned by attempts to partner with KAZU and KZSC and later with KCRW. Hand seemed to think one silver lining to the sale going public might be an angel investor/donor/buyer coming to the rescue from the local community at the 11th hour.”

    “Section 10. Liabilities of members. No person who is now, or who later becomes, a member or director of the Foundation shall be personally liable to its creditors for any indebtedness or liability, and any and all creditors of this corporation shall look only to the assets of this corporation for payment.”

    • Matthew Lasar May 9, 2015 at 3:49 pm #

      Kenya: In response to your Facebook tag to me on this question, the latest CPRN 990 I can find (2013) doesn’t list Hand as an officer for the foundation (he was identified in 2011 as "manager"). He doesn’t mention CPRN on his Public Media bio either. But PM’s CFO lists herself as CPRN’s CFO too, so I can’t fault anyone for experiencing the relationship between PM and CPRN as too close for comfort.

      You ask: "What’s the hurry?" To be fair, KUSP seems to have been flailing about for well over a year looking for some kind of partnership that would preserve some semblance of local presence. KUSP’s audit from December 2013 mentions trying to find a collaborator somewhere (I still don’t quite get why the KCRW thing fell though). Having said that, it’s very difficult for me to envision CPRN providing community radio style localism to Santa Cruz if it gets the license. So the questions are still pretty the ones that Rachel poses in this piece: can "better caretakers be found" to back a different transition? And if they are, can KUSP be prevailed upon by its listeners to turn on the proverbial dime?

      Speaking personally, there is also the question of whether a "saved" KUSP would produce an air sound that I, a part time Santa Cruz resident, would want to listen to. But that’s a subjective matter, and not anyone’s problem but my own.

    • Mike Janssen May 11, 2015 at 10:47 am #

      Hand is a “partner” at CPRN? How so?

  2. Whatamiseeing May 9, 2015 at 2:06 pm #

    Quote:

    “Liabilities of members. No person who is now, or who later becomes, a member or director of the Foundation shall be personally liable to its creditors for any indebtedness or liability,”

    And therein lies the whole answer to this sorry situation, the BOARD MEMBERS AND MANAGEMENT!!!!!!!!!!! No accountability/liability whatsoever!
    The board members/management who “managed” this station into it’s sorry state should be swinging from utility poles. Oh and Mark Hand……………do I smell conflict of interest here? Yes i do and I can smell it all the way over here in Florida. If there are any listener/supporters out there who want to keep this station, NOW is the time to lawyer up and start raising 7 kinds of hell and do it soon, this situation is moving fast for the usurpers at “Hand” (pun intended) to steal this station. 88.9 needs to be taken back by THE COMMUNITY IT SERVES, not by a faux corporate entity. Get busy folks you have precious little time.

  3. whatamiseeing May 9, 2015 at 3:06 pm #

    OBTW………….do the four FM translators come with this “deal”?

    See Link:

    http://www.radio-locator.com/cgi-bin/finder?call=kusp&x=21&y=7&sr=Y&s=C

  4. Rachel Goodman May 9, 2015 at 3:28 pm #

    Can you send me documentation that Hand is a partner in CPRN? Hard to find anything about this LLC online.
    I forgot to mention (this is public information on their website) that the manager and board chair both made personal loans to the station totaling $70,000. Does their presiding over the vote and discussion of the pending sale constitute a conflict of interest?

  5. Rachel Goodman May 9, 2015 at 5:06 pm #

    According to Mark Hand’s LinkedIN profile, he is on the board of directors of CPRN.

  6. klewis May 9, 2015 at 10:21 pm #

    Did Hand disclose he was on the Board of CPRN?

    CPRN is a stealth operation and if took us some time to substantiate the connection. At the time of the KUSF sale, Hand was also a managing director at CPRN. I’m not near a computer buf as I recollect, this can be confirmed by the ownership disclosure in the PSOA or license transfer application filed withthe FCC and or 2011/12 990’s. A quick search for Hand, CPRN, managing director, (Barnes) — should get you to the filings/exhibits., etc.

  7. klewis May 9, 2015 at 10:32 pm #

    http://rbr.com/transactions-2-4-11/

  8. Mike Janssen May 11, 2015 at 10:50 am #

    Re this: “How NPR thought having two identical stations in the same market served anyone only they can answer.” — NPR doesn’t make decisions about where its programming airs, for the most part. Stations approach it to buy its programming. NPR just sells it to whoever wants it. They probably aren’t concerned whether two stations with overlapping programming are getting by. It’s the stations’ responsibility to develop program schedules that work.

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