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Thursday, January 20, 2011

KUSF Supporters Deliver Message of Frustration, Outrage to USF President

Posted By on Thu, Jan 20, 2011 at 8:28 AM

The crowd at last night's gathering - CHRIS STEVENS
  • Chris Stevens
  • The crowd at last night's gathering
On Tuesday, the nearly 34-year-old freeform San Francisco radio station KUSF went dark after the station's FM license was sold -- without any warning for listeners and without discussion amongst station volunteers and DJs. Last night, those who felt they didn't get to have any say in the situation got a chance to air their grievances. 

There was some initial confusion amongst the event planners on Facebook as to where on campus to assemble, but by the late afternoon the consensus was that to head to the Presentation Theater at the University of San Francisco, where KUSF is based -- after a protest march by the building that actually houses the radio station.

Before the appointed 7 p.m. start time, the entire theater was packed with KUSF volunteers, DJs and listeners. There also were clumps of students, many wearing green hats bearing the words "Save KUSF." But since classes at USF have not yet started for the year, many students not yet returned to campus from winter break. The absence of the university's student body was a major grievance among those who came -- when would the voices of students away for the break be heard?

USF President Father Stephen Privett - CHRIS STEVENS
  • Chris Stevens
  • USF President Father Stephen Privett
Looking mildly annoyed at the question, USF president Father Stephen Privett threw his hands up and eventually responded that there would be another meeting to include those who could not be there last night.

Before Privett gave his opening remarks and opened the floor to the many emotional questions from the crowd, people streamed in the theater filling every seat. Eventually, the balcony was opened up to accommodate the large crowd.

  • Chris Stevens
  • The crowd
Out of those who came last night, many wore black shirts with slogans of outrage, while others carried signs. Miriam Montag, a listener and former DJ, held a handmade sign that read "It's Not Just Punk Rock," referring to KUSF's diverse schedule. Though KUSF will be replaced on the air at 90.3 FM by the classical station KDFC, Montag pointed out that KUSF already plays classical music. "I tune in for the punk rock, but I also listen to the opera and I also listen to cultural programming," Montag said.

She was listening when the station went dead. "I just thought it was a technical glitch, I mean they had guests in the next room who were going to play a live set."

Privett came out to a chorus of jeers last night. He briefly explained the school's position and said, "If we didn't do it right, I apologize." More jeers.

At the beginning of the meeting, people were given cards to fill out if they wanted a chance to speak and ask questions of Privett. The first person to speak was KUSF DJ Linda Champagne, and she was on the verge of tears.

For two more hours, person after person rose to ask a barrage of like-minded questions: Why did the school sell the station? Why didn't they give the community an opportunity to raise funds first? What happens now? Shouts of "liar!" and other hollers of disbelief were constants.

Privett repeated himself often, saying that there was a non-disclosure agreement he made with the buyer (and he later let it out that he wasn't even aware that USC was involved), that the students would still be involved with the new classical station eventually, and that he does intend to keep KUSF online. One speaker asked the obvious: what about low-income listeners who cannot afford Internet access?

Media studies faculty member Dorothy Kidd, KFJC's Jennifer Waits and KUSF's DJ Schmeejay were among the speakers who garnered roaring waves of applause. 

  • Chris Stevens
  • KFJC  DJ Jennifer Waits
Schmeejay, who was on the air when the station went dark, impolored the school, "I challenge you to reconsider this decision and let us buy the station."

Kidd said she and other faculty members were appalled and asked, "If this was a teaching decision, why is it that the first time I heard about this was last night?"

  • Chris Stevens
  • KUSF's DJ Schmeejay
KUSF DJ Chad Heimann, who was thrown out with other volunteers on Tuesday, had a particularly poignant experience. He also leads student tours around USF, but said he didn't feel capable of representing the university the next day, so he cancelled his tours. "When I was thrown out I felt like a criminal," he said.

In the end, there wasn't much progress. The community was heard, but people seemed irritated and unsatisfied by the answers given. Privett said the only thing KUSF supporters could do at this point is to take it up with the FCC (which allows a short waiting period to deal with these types of matters). But Kidd, a communications scholar, said the FCC very seldom turns over decisions.

Previtt kept repeating that the station was sold because the offer came across his desk three or four months ago, and he wanted to funnel the money back to the students. He said some of the money from the sale of KUSF's broadcast license will go to the university's media studies program, but not all of it.

When the question kept being raised about why -- if he was indeed doing this for money to invest the school -- he didn't then try to leverage the offer to get an even higher bid elsewhere, Previtt cited the non-disclosure agreement. It felt like a cop-out and people responded with outrage every time he said it.

Previtt also kept saying his first responsibility was to the students, and that just because the school has a broadcasting degree, it doesn't mean it should have a radio station -- like USF has a nursing program but not a hospital. A former volunteer later criticized that idea, saying she knows she taught the media students real-world experience they wouldn't have learned in the classroom. 

One of the last to comment, a former student, gave the administration this perhaps sobering thought regarding future donations to the school: that the $3.75 million decision to sell the station could cost university much more in the future.


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