The fight for KUSF

Pub date March 8, 2011

By Irwin Swirnoff

OPINION For almost 34 years, KUSF (90.3 FM), has provided unique and varied local programming that truly is the audio representation of the qualities that make San Francisco such a special place. A place where diversity is honored and given a voice. A place where art, culture, and music are given a platform to tell stories, evoke emotions, and unite a wide range of people.

With shows in more than a dozen languages and every imaginable musical genre, era, and region represented on its airwaves, KUSF stood as one of the most respected college and noncommercial radio stations in the country.

Beyond its wide scope of music programming, KUSF provided crucial cultural and public service programming that served so many communities and cultures in our city that are all too often marginalized. Chinese Star Radio was the only radio program in Cantonese for the large and vibrant Chinese community in San Francisco. Disability and Senior News Report provided in-depth reporting on pressing issues facing these often overlooked and neglected parts of our community.

On Jan. 18, at 10 a.m., all those voices, all those communities, and all those services were silenced and squashed. In a secret deal behind the back of the community, the University of San Francisco sold KUSF’s transmitter to the University of Southern California in a deal that also involves the large media conglomerate Entercom.

It went down like a hostile corporate takeover. The DJ on air wasn’t allowed to sign off. Armed security entered the station as every lock in the studio was being changed. As stewards of a scarce public resource, USF has an obligation to the community. It’s time for the university to take a step back from this deal and allow for a mutually beneficial solution that will keep community radio alive in San Francisco.

It’s become clear that USF had no idea what an irreplaceable public resource it was killing when it entered this sneaky deal that would afford USC with its sixth territorial radio station as it aims to create a monopoly on the left side of the dial and extend its fundraising capacities deep into the Bay Area.

It’s obvious that this is a bad deal for the city of San Francisco. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the San Francisco Democratic Party, and the USF Faculty Association have passed resolutions condemning the deal. Outspoken support has come from a wide range of city and state leaders, including state Sen. Leland Yee.

No one is arguing USF’s right to liquidate an asset. All we are asking is that the community be involved in this decision and be given the first opportunity to purchase the transmitter.

This is not a done deal. Our petition to deny the transfer has been filed at the Federal Communications Commission. Serious questions about the legality of this deal are being addressed, and the next several weeks and months will allow us time for negotiations to help save community radio in San Francisco.

This is not about a format change. It’s about a community being robbed of its voice. We are committed to this fight and need everyone in San Francisco to join us in saving this crucial community asset. Now is the time to speak truth to power.

Guardian contributor Irwin Swirnoff has been the musical director at KUSF.