KDFC wounded, KUSF killed (almost)

This week the Bay Area loses two of its radio landmarks. On 102.1fm, , which has been broadcasting classical music since 1946, will be replaced by a simulcast of (“K-FOX”), a classic rock station in San Jose. And on 90.3 fm, KUSF, which has been one of the most active and community-involved free-form college radio stations in history, has gone silent. When the signal on 90.3 comes back on the air, it will carry the KDFC call letters and classical music programming. Meanwhile the old KUSF will continue in some form online. The new KDFC will also broadcast on 89.9, which is the former home of , a station licensed to .

This graphic, combined from three coverage maps at Radio-Locator.com, shows the before-and-after situation. One red line is KDFC’s old primary coverage area on 102.1. The other two are its new primary coverage areas on 90.3 and 89.9:

(More about signals below at *)

Since the 90.3 signal is tiny, and the 89.9 signal is far away, KDFC will be losing a great deal of coverage. Neither of the new signals serves the Peninsula, the South Bay or the East Bay beyond Berkely and Oakland. KUSF needs to start over online. On the FM band, it’s dead.

What happened was a three-way deal between , the and the . Entercom is the one of the largest owners of broadcast properties in the country, and an aggressive buyer of broadcast properties. So is USC, which has expanded its classical network from in Los Angeles to five stations spread from Morro Bay to Palm Springs. USF, like many universities, held a broadcast license that had monetary value on the open market while producing no income for the university itself.

According to Radio Ink and other sources, here’s how the deal went down:

  1. USF sold the 90.3 frequency to USC for $3.8 million.
  2. USC also bought KNDL for $2.8 million.
  3. Entercom, which owns KDFC, bought KUFX from the Clear Channel Aloha Trust, and will simulcast KUFX (still as “K-FOX”) over KDFC’s old 102.1 facility. Entercom will also give KDFC’s call letters and record collection to “A new San Francisco-based nonprofit.”

The press releases:

While it’s nice that KDFC has stayed alive, its move to much weaker signals is a far bigger loss for Bay Area classical music listeners than losses suffered by listeners when New York’s WQXR and Boston’s WCRB made similar moves. WQXR stayed on the air with a smaller signal from the same antenna, and WCRB moved to a same-size transmitter a couple dozen miles from the center of town, but most listeners could still get the stations. KDFC’s new facilities only cover a fraction of the population reached by the old signal. Essentially the new station covers San Francisco, and that’s it. More about coverage below*.

KDFC’s listenership is not small. The raw numbers are actually outstanding. According to Radio-Info.com (which leverages Arbitron), KDFC had 632,000 listeners in the most recent ratings period (December 2010), a notch above news-talk leader KGO (624,100). KDFC’s 3.2 average quarter hour (AQH) share was tied for #8 in the market, one notch above “sports giant” KNBR, which scored a 2.8. (KGO was #1 overall for most of the last six decades, and KNBR is an AM powerhouse that covers at least half of California by day and the whole West at night.) In fact, KDFC had better overall numbers than any other Entercom station in the Bay Area.

The problem for Entercom was the format. It’s hard to sell advertising for classical music stations, which have less inventory to offer (sports, news and popular music stations carry many more minutes of advertising per hour), and serve an older audience as well.

Judging from the KDFC statement on its website The Classical Public Radio Network () will hold the license, even though it closed down a few years ago, sort of. It also says,

The new KDFC has already begun to look for new signals to offer reception in the South Bay and the entire Bay Area for our around-the-clock classical programming.

We are happy to let you know Dianne Nicolini, Hoyt Smith, Rik Malone, and Ray White will continue as your on-air hosts, and KDFC’s partnerships with the Bay Area arts and culture community will continue to grow and thrive.

KDFC is the last major commercial classical station in America to make the transition to public radio. This move ensures that classical radio is sustainable for our community into the future. Since 1947, Bay Area classical fans have shown their passionate support for KDFC. Now more than ever, we’re grateful for that support as we begin the new era of Classical KDFC. Comments can be made to  comments at myclassical.org, or by phoning 415-546-8710. If you’d like to send a check as a Founder for the Future of KDFC, please send a check to:

The Classical Public Radio Network, 201 Third Street, 12th floor, San Francisco, CA 94103.

It’s signed by Bill Leuth, Vice President, KDFC. Bill and the other names he mentions are Bay Area classical radio institutions as well.

As for KUSF, maybe going online will be a form of liberation. As signals go, 90.3 barely covered San Francisco. The Internet covers the world. And Internet radio is growing fast. Aribitron now includes online streams in its ratings, which it wouldn’t do that if those streams were not signifiant. In San Francisco, KNBR’s stream had more than 50,000 listeners in November. In Los Angeles, KROQ’s stream had 67,900 listeners in December. Many more people every day are listening to radio on phones and other portable devices. Even Howard Stern, when he renewed with Sirius in December, said the future of satellite listening isn’t over satellite — it’s over the Internet. (Which Jeff Jarvis and I both told him, back when he was still making up his mind. Latelr Howard kindly gave a hat tip to Jeff on the air.)

And hey, KDFC can benefit from the same thing.

Here’s more from The Bay Citizen and the San Francisco Chronicle. And a rescue mission report at SF Weekly… And here’s the audio from a KQED Forum program on the matter. It says that KUSF is slated to become “an online-only training station for students.] Here’s a San Francisco Chronicle story on a gathering at USF at which “almost 500 backers” of KUSF came to confront Stephen A. Privett, the University President. The part that matters:

Privett said he made the decision because the station, dominated by outside volunteers, “was of minimal benefit to my students.”

“This was not a crass business decision about dollars,” Privett said. “This was about ensuring our programs involve our students. … Our primary mission is to our students, it is not to the community at large.”

Privett said some of the $3.75 million would be used to fund the student-led online station, with the rest going to other unspecified educational projects.

Well, “student-led” suggests that the community might still be involved.

For frequent updates follow @KUSF. and at SaveKUSF on Facebook. Feelings are not weak on this matter. KUSF is much loved by its community.

On January 20, I put up a new post suggesting that the KUSF community go for 87.7fm. I think it’s available.

It also amazes me (it’s still January 20) that this post and the next one have not yet received a single comment. Meanwhile my earlier post about Flickr now has 86 comments, and even the highly arcane Geology by Plane has 6. Could it be that the total number of people who care just isn’t that large? Not saying this is a bad thing, just that it’s an isolated one. So far 3,384 people say they like SaveKUSF on Facebook. But liking and doing are way different. As I suggest here, the best bet for doing isn’t trying to make a university turn down $3.8 million for something they clearly wish to unload. It’s to start something new.

* Signal stuff, for the technical:


  1. Ralph H’s avatar

    I’ve heard lots of broadcast folks lamenting the demise of radio, as music scarcity is replaced by abundance – listeners can switch to more self-curated music on iPods and Pandora.

    How much impact has the royalty situation had, compared to other factors?

    (Radio now must pay for performance rights now, not just the smaller fees the song composers get.)

  2. Lou Judson’s avatar

    It is a damn shame they couldn’t have kept the KDFC classical on the 102.1 transmitter. I’d like to know more about why that didn’t happen.

    The LAST thing the Bay Area needs is another commercial classic rock station!

    And since I’m in Marin, if they could acquire the old KTIM site that would suffice for local car trips…

    But darn, I still miss KKHI!

  3. Lou Judson’s avatar

    Not to mention KJAZ…

  4. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Well, it’s interesting that KDFC has well over half a million listeners as it now stands. I think classical music of both the self- and Pandora-curated sort is a bit less interesting to many listeners than the kind curated and played by experts such as those on KDFC, KUSC, WQXR and WCPE. I generally prefer those to what I get if I just make a Beethoven station on Pandora.

    The royalty situation is a problem both for regular radio and for webcasting. It has essentially prevented the podcasting of most music. And it has helped drive both talk radio (to avoid the costs) and mainstream music broadcasting (to absorb the costs). It is also very complex for stations both on the air and on the Net. But I haven’t studied that stuff for years, so I can’t say for sure.

  5. Doc Searls’s avatar

    KDFC can’t stay on 102.1 because the owner (Entercom) wants to make money. It doesn’t matter that KDFC is possibly the most popular classical station in the whole country. Hmm… Okay, I just checked with http://radio-info.com, and it’s not. Both WQXR and KUSC have over 700,000 listeners each; but they’re in New York and Los Angeles. KDFC has nearly as many in a smaller market and about 2x the shares of those other stations.

    The problem is that there isn’t much advertising inventory — time — to sell on classical radio, and the demographics are older, if also more upscale. But advertisers of beer and trucks and don’t want to pour money into classical radio. On the other hand, a Mercedes might underwrite a noncommercial classical station, and listeners might support it as well. Such is the case with WQXR and KUSC. But it’ll be harder for KDFC, because it’ll be audible only in San Francisco and the North Bay.

    Since you’re in Marin, you might get it well enough. Even though 90.3 is highly terrain shadowed, I believe it has a clear shot into the Bay-facing parts of Marin. Meaning that if you can see the city, you might be able to get it. And if you can see Mount Saint Helena to the north, you should be able to get it on 89.9. It won’t be like 102.1, which is in Marin itself and huge there, but it’s better than what you’d get in the South Bay, which is squat.

    Speaking of KKHI, the AM was one of my DX catches in 1961, in New Jersey. I even have an audiotape of it. You can barely make it out, but the ID is there, from almost 3000 miles away. I’m sure at the time they were testing the transmitter in non-directional mode, and when CBE in Windsor, Ontario, which KKHI’s night signal protects, was off the air. KKHI, KFI and KNBR were my only catches from the far west coast. I also got WBZ from Boston in Palo Alto after I moved there in 1985. On one of the first digital portable radios, from GE. Had fun last April visiting the source of that signal, here near Boston.

  6. Edwin W Brink’s avatar

    “Clear channel radio station KFI, brought to you by Earle C. Anthony, southern California distributor of Packard motor cars.” They used to have “even-ins” on the night show, with listeners writing from as far away as Alaska (“Even in Fairbanks, Alaska they listen to KFI”). Hee, yes, KDFC’s audience includes us older folx. I grew up with KFAC Los Angeles. I remember the Zandt Carpet Company was one of their long-time sponsors. It’s the Internet KDFC for me in Menlo Park, prolly using a home wired-FM transmitter to cover all the FM radios in the house. But now what am I going to do with my Christmas HD (digital) FM radio?

  7. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Edwin, KFI was amazingly reliable as a DX catch in New Jersey when I was a kid in the late ’50s and early ’60s. It wasn’t loud, but it was there. Of course that’s the idea behind “clear channels.” Ancient history now — although last night I could get WBZ from Boston on a portable radio here in Boulder, by nulling out the other station on 1030 from Wyoming.

    Anyway, we use a Ramsey FM-100 transmitter to cover the house in Santa Barbara, and feed it from a Sonos system that has a dozen classical feeds, including Minnesota Public Radio, WCPE, KUSC, KING, WQXR and two or three channels from SiriusXM. It’s a good approach. I do hope KDFC localizes its offerings, and suspect they will. Otherwise, the competition on a worldwide basis will be too much.

  8. Pete Sommer’s avatar

    Losing KDFC on the Peninsula is one DAMN SHAME – it has – had – a BIG AUDIENCE.

    A trick to make us all get iphones and sirius?

    I know a bunch of 30- and 40-somethings are coming on to classical music.
    Ridiculous time to cut and run.

    I hope it makes it…it has become better and better as a programmed classical station.

  9. Joe Speciale’s avatar

    I miss KKHI, now that it has been all but eliminated off-the-air, I miss the old KDFC, and now in the supposedly intellectual, cultured, urban SF Bay Area there is not one classical music station left (I don’t know about the ‘intellectual’ label when you look at the kooks we elect). Just turn off the radio and turn on the internet, I agree.

  10. Wendell Stewart’s avatar

    Bottom line, for 20 years I have listened to KDFC more than all other stations combined. My wife also listened in her car. We both now will no longer listen to 102.1 anymore. Multiply that by about 630,000.

  11. Greg Bayol’s avatar

    The airwaves are owned by the people and they should serve ALL members of the public. Must we be satisfied with talk, rock, rap and more —-? The new media technology was supposed to provide us MORE choices not just more ways for the media elite to make more money. Even satellite radio only carries one real classical station among its hundreds of stations.

  12. Rose Marie G. Fontana’s avatar

    Like so many other Peninsula listeners, I am beyond disappointed that my favorite classical radio station has been bumped off of the air thanks to some behind the scenes maneuvering by Entercom and USC. This situation is so aggravating because there is absolutely nothing we listeners can do.
    Nevertheless, I am grateful for this blog, and for John Boland, who informed us about the situation.

  13. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Greg, alas the airwaves are not owned by the people. The government grants exclusive licenses to spectrum, some of which it auctions off. Sad fact of life.

    That said, the new media tech does provide far more choice. And the media elite aren’t the only ones making money. That’s a good fact of life.

    Radio is moving to the Net. That’s where most of it already is, and where nearly all of it will be in the future. The classical radio choices there are huge.


  14. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Wendell, can you not listen over the Net?

  15. sean c’s avatar

    I am mad as hell… Been listening to KDFC for as long as I can remember- at least 25 years now… and now nothing. Unbelievable. Super-cultured, extra sophisticated San Francisco Bay Area without a major classical signal. Wow. Just like our water, SoCal ran off with another of our most valued resources! I’m not high tech, so how do I wire my house and car to hear the new KDFC signal? Suggestions welcome. BTW, great blog. The most comprehensive information yet about this sad change of events.

  16. Doc Searls’s avatar

    I feel your pain, Sean.

    I can also get KDFC just fine here in Boston on any of our laptops or phones (two iPhones and an Android).

    And I wouldn’t blame SoCal for anything. The USC people didn’t kill or steal KDFC. They saved it from certain death.

    Where do you live? If I know that I can tell you if it’s worth your trouble to get either of KDFC’s new signals.

  17. sean c’s avatar

    Thanks for the clarification on SoCal. Sorry about that Southlanders… just venting without thinking. It’s been a long, busy, frustrating week, and now no KDFC — deprived of one of my last remaining valued daily sanctuaries! Anyways, sorry for all the drama. I live in the Mid-Peninsula and commute to and from SF, which is my primary listening time. I’ve tried 88.9 and 90.3, but both have poor-to-no reception. Thanks again for your imput.

  18. Doc Searls’s avatar

    No sweat on the SoCal matter. (More about that in a minute.) On KDFC, try for 89.9. I just noticed that I had said both 88.9 and 89.9 above, which was an error. Just corrected it. The 89.9 signal comes from the top of Mount Saint Helena, which is pretty far north, but has line-of-sight to the shore-side parts of the Peninsula, as well as the north sides of its hills. When I lived in Palo Alto, San Carlos and Emerald Hills, I got 89.9 fairly well with a good radio, although it is sandwiched between KFJC on 89.7 and KZSU on 90.1. If you have a rooftop antenna pointed straight north, you should be able to get it if the path is clear. (You won’t, say, if you’re in one of the valleys between the hills of Belmont or San Carlos.) Car radios, especially older ones (that have real antennas, rather than the stubby ones or the ones that are just wires buried in windows), can be especially good. See if you can get 89.9 when you drive around.

    Now, on the SoCal matter. Kevin Pollock used to have a funny routine about growing up in San Francisco and then moving to Los Angeles after he started getting acting gigs there. He talked about how he was taught, as a kid, to hate Los Angeles, hate the Dodgers, and to invest emotional energy in the rivalry between the two cities. Then, when he went to L.A., he thought he was entering enemy territory. But he found none of his animosity reciprocated. Los Angelinos, he found, thought San Francisco was cool. They didn’t even dislike the Giants very much.

    So my story is this: From ’85 to ’01, I lived in the Bay Area. But had grown up in New Jersey and New York, and lived most of my adult life before then in North Carolina. I liked all of California, and had no NorCal animosity toward SoCal. In fact I liked Los Angeles a lot, and for many reasons.

    So one day in 1990 I meet an excellent woman at one of those in-the-woods hippie weekends at a hot spring in NorCal. As we got to know each other, it turned out that she was from Los Angeles (and also no hippie). She was single, and I won points for being the first guy she had met in NorCal who not only didn’t crap on SoCal, but actually liked Los Angeles. So we started dating, and got married the next year. And still are, 20 years later.

  19. Bill Mann’s avatar

    My piece on the KDFC /Entercom fiasco from the Merc:

  20. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Bill. Great to see you here, too. I wasn’t familiar with Entercom’s history — just that they had saved KDFC when Bonneville bailed.

  21. nadine Booras’s avatar

    I live in Point Reyes Sta. I can’t seem to connect . I do have cable we also have Bose radios and never had a problem bedore!!!! this was our only music outlet and kept it on all the time ampm Since my husband Bill died this past Dec. I,m so lost! since this was so much a part of our joy and connectedness. TV for the most part just doesn’t make it Help HELPHopefully Nadine Booras BOX 446 Pt. Reyes Sta. CA. 94956 thank you

  22. Garth Alton’s avatar

    For those of you who have Comcast Cable, you may have with your subscription access to FM stations that are Bay Area located. For me, KDFC comes in perfectly on channel 981. This works even with the basic digital converter that is now required for TV reception.

    The station may be advertising this fact but if 90% of the former listeners cannot hear KDFC they will not be aware of this.

    Now where can I find one radio that plays over-the-air, cable, and Internet stations?

  23. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Nadine, have you tried listening for KDFC on 90.3fm? If you can see down the valley toward The City from Point Reyes Station, you should be able to get it with a good radio.

    Since you have Bose radios, check to make sure an antenna is connected. You may need to move it around a bit to see what you can get. Most of those radios ship with an antenna that’s basically a wire with a jack at one end.

    You might contact your cable company to make sure they continue to carry KDFC. They might be able to help you hook up cable to your radio.

    And how are you getting on the Internet? If you have cable it’s likely you’re getting an Internet connection that way. In any case, go to KDFC’s website and see if you can get the station by clicking on the Listen link. If that works, you might be able to get a low-power FM transmitter to connect to a computer and broadcast the station in your house, to pick up on your radios.

  24. Connie Berto’s avatar

    After all these years — 52 in Marin — of readily-tunable classical music — KKHI, KDFC — I can’t get the new KDFC on ANY radio in my home and only “somewhat” on my Prius radio. Even GGTransit buses passing my car will cause static, and I won’t even mention going out of line-of-sight and other shadows. I don’t want to have to buy gizmos to try to restore what I enjoyed before. I feel betrayed. And why should I contribute $$ to a station that I can not even receive unless I happen to be in my car, or close enough to my computer to let it stream? This is a sad, sad situation.

  25. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Connie, have you tried 89.9?

    I suggest that contributing $$ will help pay for the extra translators and other new signals the station needs to buy. I believe they have option for that. And I expect that the USC people will improve the KDFC signal on 90.3, especially to the North, where it has les need to protec other signals, and where it also currently has severe terrain-shadowing.

    The fact is, Entercom didn’t need to do the deal. They could have done what KKHI did, disappearing completely while the station dumped the library through record stores. Not that Entercom is a heroic company, either. See Bill Mann’s column for more on all of it.

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