Public/community radio station KUSP-FM of Santa Cruz, California has announced three public meetings to discuss the station’s future. As we’ve reported, principals for the debt ridden signal recently voted to sell its license to the Classical Public Radio Network, which runs classical station KDFC in San Francisco. Since then KUSP supporters have urged the station’s management to consider alternative plans. One source tells me that the proposed CPRN sale has been put on hiatus. I’ve checked in with KUSP on this, but have yet to receive a reply. In any event, along with the meeting announcement, KUSP has posted an array of possibilities for discussion. These alternate futures are intriguingly dubbed “Pine,” “Maple,” “Plum,” “Fig,” and “Walnut.”
Pine would entail some continued reliance on NPR programming and some continuity with the station’s present audience strategy. That strategy was always controversial with sectors of the KUSP community, who argue that it saddled the station with debt without generating the audience needed to keep up with costs. The “Pine” course of action would retain NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, along with a “consistent but somewhat eclectic mix of contemporary music during the day, in the evenings, and on weekends.”
The Maple scenario would place a greater emphasis on music, while retaining NPR on-the-hour headlines and special coverage of breaking news.
A Plum model would transition KUSP to an all volunteer music program host format, although the station would probably still have to keep about four or five paid employees.
The Fig plan would preserve KUSP’s news/public affairs orientation, but with different sources than NPR: “National and global content resources would include PRX, the Pacifica AudioPort, and the international community radios that are represented in AMARC,” the outline explains. “Major public radio distributors other than PRX would not be part of the mix.”
Finally, the Walnut scenario would foreground BBC programming, plus international services like Al Jazeera or the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), as resources permit.
All of these possibilities come with difficult questions. Can the station afford them? Would the 88.9 FM signal have to be sold? A lot of uncertainties, although there does seem to be a consensus on the station’s recent past. KUSP’s own analysis of its current dilemma acknowledges that the NPR laden strategy of the last six years did not succeed.
“The economics of public radio favor stations of larger size than KUSP,” the operation’s ‘How did we get here?’ page concludes. ” . . . we have to move away from our present method of operation towards something new.”
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