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Pine, maple, or fig? KUSP of Santa Cruz considers its options

KUSPPublic/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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5 Responses to Pine, maple, or fig? KUSP of Santa Cruz considers its options

  1. klewis May 24, 2015 at 9:33 am #

    A few questions:

    How “debt ridden” is the signal? I thought I read $700k, the bulk of which is owed to NPR and Board member loans? If so, is that a significant amount of debt given the value of the license? Isn’t it likely that NPR would negotiate down what I understood to be around $400k of debt? Were Board members told the station could be forced into bankruptcy when that is untrue for a California non-profit?

    Why the hurry? There was a rumor that the CPRN LOA timed out–why not be transperent either way?

    What’s the deal with hiring Marc Hand, former managing director and Board member of CPRN, as a paid advisor to consider a deal that he stands to benefit from? Is an effort being made to get agnostic advice?

    What happened to the KCRW conversation? Jason Bently is a good guy and has done great stuff w/their music programming.

    What are the scenarios if the license is sold? None of the stations who have beenin this position seem to have re-assembled sucessfully. What happens to the surpluss from a sale? Is there a responibility to the local public?

  2. jonthebru May 25, 2015 at 5:21 pm #

    I won’t get to vote but will state that the community are being railroaded by the CPRN. I suggest the “plum”; keep expenses low plan. Later as you gain solvency add the corporate programming. People are fools for letting this frequency go. Also get rid of anyone who let the financial insolvency occur.

  3. Jerry Drawhorn May 25, 2015 at 6:22 pm #

    I’d also go Plum. And some of those positions could be made half-time or supported by Federal or State employment training grants.

    There was once a time when one could legally download and re-broadcast BBC broadcasts. Is that now an issue because of “BBC America”? Perhaps a similar strategy, though, could be done with the English language version of Radio Deutschvelle, Radio Netherlands, or another SW News option. These provide the access to diversity while also offering a basic national/international news source, allowing local energy to be directed at local news and investigative reporting/Public Affairs. Why go to some expensive option, when one can achieve the mission for free.

  4. Jerry Drawhorn May 25, 2015 at 6:31 pm #

    And maybe for a bit of a “buzz” how about having a few volunteer hours when erstwhile KFAT and (fired/retired) KPIG DJ’s have shows…Americana is what I think they call it now? There is actually a link between KUSP and KFAT….Lorenzo Milam actually founded both stations (though he left the staff of KFAT to follow their own twisted road).

  5. Jean May 25, 2015 at 7:37 pm #

    Unfortunately, the Plum includes selling the license, the transmitter, and all the translators. So KUSP would have no means of broadcasting. Not a good idea.

    KUSP Forward is working on another alternative. We currently call it the Acorn, and it contains creative ideas for downsizing operations to balance the budget and save the station so it can go forward. We call our alternative Acorn because big trees from little acorns grow. We want to bring the station back to the future – local programming, local news, local music for starters. NPR may or may not figure in there somewhere but we just don’t know yet. Stay tuned.

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