KUSF goes off air to shock, dismay of disc jockeys and fervent fans

KUSF, a San Francisco-based college radio station with a cult following, abruptly went off the air Tuesday morning, shocking its DJs and listeners.

The University of San Francisco sold its license for radio frequency 90.3 FM to the Classical Public Radio Network for $3.75 million, but did not mention the sale to all but a couple of staffers until after it pulled the plug on KUSF at 10 a.m.

The 34-year-old music station — known to introduce local underground music to a small but devout Bay Area audience — will move to an online-only format, the university said in a statement soon after the airwaves went dead.

USF spokesman Gary McDonald said the university shut down the station so abruptly because of its deal with CPRN, which is owned by the University of Southern California. “The deal required that this not be a public process,” he said.

The programming change at KUSF is the product of a larger deal involving several radio station owners. USC bought classical station KDFC from Entercom Communications, and is moving KDFC’s frequency from 102.1 to 90.3.

DJs and listeners cried foul about the “secretive, backroom deal” and planned to protest at USF at 7 p.m. today.

Soon after the shutdown, DJ Carolyn Keddy tweeted that when she showed up for her show, the doors were locked. The university placed a campus police officer at the station on Tuesday to keep the peace.

“The loss of the FM signal takes away the whole validation of the station,” said Ethan Jenkins, aka DJ Push, one of the station’s 200 volunteers. Jenkins and a staffer estimated that between 30,000 and 50,000 listeners tuned in weekly, and as many as 15,000 at any given time. The station has four full-time employees, who will be offered similar positions with KUSF’s online site, McDonald said. The station “will go dark briefly for necessary engineering work,” which could take “several days,” USF said.

Jennifer Maerz, a longtime KUSF listener and editor for online culture magazine Bold Italic, said online radio is the future, but the loss of the old station that  unearthed so many indie-rock bands is sad.

Not everyone has access to the Internet, and people want to listen in their cars, she said.

“To me, that station is more important than Pitchfork, Spin or Rolling Stone,” Maerz said. “They play a ton of local bands, and there’s no other place you can hear that type of music.”

The sale still must be approved by the Federal Communications Commission.

maldax@sfexaminer.com

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