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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: San Francisco | Government & Elections | Health, Housing, and Public Services | Indymedia
FCC approves sale of KUSF 90.3FM in corrupt "back room" deal
Close to a year and a half after appealing the questionable sale and shutdown, with submission of voluminous legal documents, the FCC simply approved the deal between the rule-breaking parties without any inclusion of KUSF attorneys. KUSF has 30 days to appeal and will. After a big station meeting two weeks ago, DJ Rubble interviewed KUSF In Exile DJ Irwin Swirnoff, who expresses the station’s outrage and resolve. Irwin presents the legal decision, activist strategies, and continuing internet radio broadcasting and other community-based music activities KUSF in Exile is engaging in while seeking avenues back onto the airwaves. (19 minutes)
Here’s the history for first-time readers. On January 18, 2011, the University of San Francisco (USF) sent armed guards into its 33 year old college radio station and unilaterally pulled the plug, announcing a $3.8 million sale in a three-way deal negotiated in total secrecy under a corporate “non-disclosure” agreement with radio conglomerate Entercom and Southern California chain Classical Public Radio Network (CPRN).
The deal went like this.: Entercom took its long-time commercial classical music station off 102.1FM and replaced it with its own repeater classic rock station that generates more profit. Since Entercom could not buy the USF dial space outright as a corporate profiteer, it teamed up with a truly shadowy entity, Classical Public Radio Network, a “non-profit” corporation owned by the University of Southern California (USC). Entercom apparently sold the rights to the classical station to CPRN, which turned around and bought the KUSF broadcast license for $3.8 million dollars. Something like that….
Effectively, a great locally-driven, community-based, eclectic music and public affairs station was replaced by a cookie-cutter classic rock repeater station already operating out of San Jose, with a dumbed-down version of the classical station moving dial locations.
After a hostile response from USF administration in the two days following the sale, station volunteers and supporters as “Friends of KUSF“ (KUSF). filed a petition to deny the sale with the FCC and mobilized to raise money, public support and awareness, along with other avenues to carry out its mission of community-based broadcasting.
Extensive legal documentation was filed with the FCC. The objective is to be granted an “administrative hearing” so their lawyers could present its case in person for the Commissioners to vote on. Instead of rubber-stamping the deal within three months and denying the petition as in every other challenge to sales like this, the FCC in an unprecedented move, demanded extensive information from USF and CPRN to review the KUSF claims surrounding the proposed sale.
This FCC decision seems as ethically bankrupt as the sale itself! Instead of holding a hearing with the KUSF legal team or otherwise including KUSF in the negotiation, the FCC secretly went into unannounced private negotiations with USF and CPRN. Effectively, all the decision does is change CPRN’s purchase price rises from $3.8million to $3.85, USF’s take is down to $3.75 million. The FCC continues a 0% justice and transparency rate in these matters.
The ethical questions remain unaddressed. How can CPRN, a Los Angeles-based radio conglomerate negotiating big money purchases of small left-dial stations up and down the State, doing nothing more than playing music then pitching sales of everything they play on a commercial website, can be considered local and educational? How can the sale of a community-based station be negotiated unannounced behind closed doors without the community even knowing let along participating? Why can Entercom, about the 10th biggest commercial radio profiteer nationally, even be involved in a non-commercial radio transaction? Many procedural rules were reportedly violated by all parties.
From a recent press release posted on kusf-archives.com regarding the decision: In a statement, Friends of KUSF lawyers Peter Franck and Alan Korn said, "We are profoundly disappointed to learn that a silent agreement was reached between the FCC, the University of San Francisco and Classical Public Radio Network, LLC. Apparently negotiated behind closed doors without the participation of Petitioners, the so-called 'Consent Decree' excuses KUSF's and CPRN's violation of FCC rules with a $50,000 fine. This fine is less than a slap on the wrist when compared to the $3.8 million proposed purchase price, high-priced Washington D.C. attorneys' fees and other exorbitant costs spent on this flawed transaction."
Said Save KUSF spokesman Irwin Swirnoff, "The fine imposed by the FCC's Media Bureau proves that we raised serious questions about this sale and we believe that it's important for the full Commission to address these issues. If this sale is allowed to go through, San Francisco will lose an irreplaceable cultural resource, one that has served minority communities such as Chinese-language speakers for 33 years. We will continue to do everything in our power to stop this sale. USF and CPRN's disrespect to the community cannot go unchallenged."
While the FCC once again tries to dodge the truly subjective aspects of these corporate buyouts, attorney Alan Korn told KUSF staff in the recent station meeting that the FCC will eventually be required to address the issue of what constitutes a non-commercial and community based-station.
As bad as it is, the decision itself does nothing, because Friends of KUSF plans to appeal the decision within the 30 days allowed. Friends of KUSF is pushing to raise $20,000 in 30 days to pay for this appeal and other immediate legal costs. Attorney Korn believes they may have to appeal through all levels of the FCC’s processes over several years to get standing in Federal Court to seek justice. While the FCC has had courts overturn rulings in other matters in the past, no community radio station has been able to raise the overwhelming amounts of money needed to get to court to challenge a sale.
This fight has nationwide attention and implications. According to Attorney Franck, the aspect which got the FCC’s attention is termed the “Death of College Radio”. While NPR and a national religious network has been buying up non-commercial stations for years, an alarming number of college and other commercial stations have been sold for millions in the last couple of years, some with outraged responses by station personnel and listeners that have fallen on deaf ears. If this process isn’t stopped, college radio will be literally extinct in the near future. These rampant deals also further limit the already very limited non-commercial dial space that should be used to implement the new Low Power FM (LPFM) licensing process the FCC has been ordered by courts to start implement as a result of over a decade of pressure from micro radio activists. The fight has probably already has effects beyond KUSF. Potential buyers are probably delaying purchases in negotiation while this legal battle plays out, reluctant to take on extensive legal battles.
DJ Irwin told me that internally, this has been a public relations nightmare for USF and its ruthless top bureaucrat Father Privett. USF administrators have reportedly lied through their teeth from the start. The original press announcement of the sale stated that USF sold the station because it is moving to an “on-line format“, which Father Privett claimed to somehow be an educational tool for its media department students that a real radio station could not provide. According to Irwin, USF destroyed the studio while the legal appeal was proceeding, and there is to this day no on-line station. USF is losing money in legal costs and CPRN still can’t be sure it will ever own the dial space. The FCC - due to pressure from KUSF and other local college stations who may also be CPRN buyout targets - has twice denied CPRN the right to move the studio off campus. CPRN continues broadcasting on 90.3FM in some kind of rental agreement, broadcasting out of Entercom’s downtown studio.
KUSF is broadcasting on-line as “KUSF in Exile” at savekusf.org and can use more listeners and volunteers. They are receiving costly on-line access from a really good New Jersey music station WFMU, as a donation to help keep up the political fight. The KUSF DJs have great skill and knowledge of the local and low-budget national music scenes and play long uninterrupted music sets including local artists in a really fun atmosphere.
At the recent meeting, station personnel decided to continue both the on-line broadcasting and legal fight. The biggest challenge in both is the overwhelming amount of money needed. Donations can be submitted on-line and by check, information available on savekusf.org. Look there for a calendar of the really fun small club music shows and DJ nights being used as legal fundraisers . You can also find information and recorded shows on kusf-archives.com.
Hear DJ Carolyn announce the formation of a non-profit corporation, which will allow KUSF to braodcast as a non-commercial radio station when they get access to radio dial space. Carolyn formed this corporation through her own initiative and hard work. (4:04)