I’ve visited college radio station KUSF at University of San Francisco (USF) many times over the years and have watched it morph from being a terrestrial college/community station at 90.3 FM to its present incarnation as a student-oriented online-only station.
It was seven years ago when I first visited KUSF. At the time, it occupied multiple floors in Phelan Hall at USF, with room for offices, studios, a record library, and storage. Things at KUSF changed considerably five years ago, when USF shut down the station unexpectedly in January, 2011. DJs were locked out, protests ensued and the FM license was ultimately sold to Classical Public Radio Network, which now airs classical music programming over 90.3 FM (now under the KDFC brand). In May, 2011, USF demolished the old KUSF studios and offices that I wrote about in my 2009 tour report and eventually built a new, much-smaller online-only station across campus.
KUSF.org officially launched with live DJs on October 2, 2012, although an automated stream of music had played over KUSF.org ever since the January, 2011 shut-down of the 90.3 FM broadcasts. Although I’ve stopped by KUSF.org a few times during its 3 years of existence, I’d never written up a tour report. Because of that, my trip to campus on September 2, 2015 was a great chance to revisit the station and find out how things are going.
Today KUSF.org is split across two locations. A small office is housed in one building and the studio is located in a different nearby building. Both spaces are cozy and lived-in, with posters on the walls, interesting artifacts (including a Leo Blais sign, which has survived all the moves), and shelves of music.
KUSF’s General Manager Miranda Morris showed me around the station and also filled me in on some pertinent details about KUSF.org over email following my visit. She told me that KUSF.org is mainly a student radio station, which is a big difference from its final days over FM (at the time, there were many non-student DJs). There are around 65 to 70 on-air staff, with 55 different programs throughout the week. Morris explained that it’s a wider variety of students volunteering at KUSF.org than in the past, telling me,
Kusf.org is mainly comprised of students. Where KUSF.org has changed the most in the past 2 years is in the student demographics. We used to be mainly comprised of Media Studies majors and now we have a much more broad spectrum of majors and there is a good balance of levels from freshman to seniors as well as over 5 graduate students at any given semester. We currently have two professors doing live weekly shows -one is an underground metal show! There is also a USF Staff member (from Gleeson Library) doing an evening music program. Almost every semester we try to work with various classes that might be recording audio and either offer equipment or the studio for recording and we usually air the content on KUSF. This past year we worked with the Davies Forum class, Audio Production Classes, and next semester we will be working with another International Studies Graduate class and hopefully other opportunities will happen as the semester starts.”
I was also glad to hear that KUSF.org is generating a lot of interest among students on campus. Morris relayed that in Fall, 2015, the station “…collected over 250 emails from students interested in the station.” Mostly a music-oriented station, KUSF.org also has a movie review show, a sports show, and a talk show led by a campus MFA writing program (some of their episodes can be heard as podcasts on their Switchback Magazine website.)
Last semester the AUX channel went out and students had to rely only on CDs & Vinyl. This made some interesting things surface! A few DJs must have only been relying only on their laptops or devices for their entire show and didn’t remember how to use the cds let alone vinyl. This gave us the opportunity to really address DJ capabilities, teach a few DJs how to use the equipment again…[and] how to be adaptable when stuff does not work…I think the number one amazing thing that happened – the programming was awesome! It was all Currents and plays from the main CD and vinyl library. I loved what I was hearing and I think it really made them better DJs by getting out of their sometimes insular playlists.”
Although the loss of KUSF’s FM license in 2011 generated many protests and left many long-time shows without a terrestrial home, the current roster of students at KUSF.org were not involved with KUSF when it broadcast over 90.3 FM. Morris told me,
…many students care about losing the FM signal. There are not any students around from the 2011 FM shut down but it is definitely still part of the station’s recent history. We have come so far but I can still hear myself when training new directors saying things like – ‘well don’t worry that no one called in to win tickets to that show, sometimes at KUSF FM we had ticket giveaway problems too!’ …an easy example but in the scope of things the students want [the] station to be more respected and have a broader reach. I can’t blame those who want that but I also have to remind them how easy it is for them to get behind the mic and create a radio show with little pressure and way less investment in time and resources.”
Beyond what happens on-air, KUSF also puts out a ‘zine every semester, sends a monthly email newsletter, has held campus events, and has maintained KUSF’s long-time record sale fundraiser, the Rock n Swap (the next one is on April 10, 2016). Morris recounted to me that the swap is important as both a fundraiser and as a way to build community. Morris said,
The Rock N Swap fundraisers have held the station together through thick and thin. We held swaps even when we were being moved and didn’t even have a studio space to broadcast from. The swaps are a ‘built in’ fundraiser and this is really important now that we are on-line only and it is really hard to get advertisers for a small internet station…The swap is also a connector for the campus station to the community. We get out there to put up fliers in all the record stores, advertise in the free weekly newspaper, and generate a buzz [on] campus. It’s important for the students and the station to have a connection with the community. I talk to a lot of people in the community who are so happy to learn that the swap is still going on and that the students have a station. The swap also gives new recruits and seasoned DJs a platform to help the station as well as work together and get to know each other.”
Although KUSF’s current space doesn’t lend itself to loud, live performances since it is adjacent to classroom space, DJs have been doing on-air interviews and are encouraged to host quieter acoustic bands or musicians. In light of that, KUSF has hosted live shows at other venues on campus. Morris described one show from last semester, which featured the bands Dot Vom and Dinosaurs as well as music sets by KUSF DJs, telling me, “The show was driven and curated at KUSF and supported by the Campus Activities Board (CAB). It was a success and really brought together the students who like more underground and alternative music while giving the station some campus cred. The show felt like a little all ages venue on campus and we want to do more shows and now the students have some experience.”