A three-way transaction involving Los Angeles pubcasters KCRW and KUSC will bring more public radio options to listeners in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Under a deal announced Feb. 18, KCRW will buy 93.7 KDB-FM, a commercial classical station for 88 years, but will not broadcast on the frequency. Instead, all-classical KUSC will move to the channel and transfer its 88.7 FM signal in Santa Barbara to KCRW. KCRW will turn its new acquisition into an outlet for its hybrid format of news and contemporary music, with localized content within NPR newsmagazines.
KDB’s licensee, the Santa Barbara Foundation, put the classical station up for sale in October after years of six-figure losses and a determination that radio fell beyond its core mission. Public Radio Capital, the Colorado-based consultancy specializing in public media signal expansion, brokered the deal, which is expected to close in approximately 45 days.
The Santa Barbara Foundation sought a noncommercial buyer for the station that would continue the classical format, said PRC Managing Director Marc Hand. A market of Santa Barbara’s size could no longer sustain two classical stations, he said. KDB derived some income from listener support.
“This is really a perfect outcome,” Hand said. “If there hadn’t been a suitable option from a noncommercial broadcaster, then it would have opened up for commercial buyers.”
After the FCC approves the deal, classical music lovers in Santa Barbara won’t have to reset their radios, as the format will continue on 93.7 FM.
KUSC will also retain KDB’s call sign, said KUSC President Brenda Barnes. “KDB’s been the place to go for classical music in Santa Barbara since the late 1920s,” Barnes said. “This switch made perfect sense to us — it’s an honor for us to step in and maintain that heritage and history.”
KUSC has broadcast on KQSC, its Santa Barbara repeater signal on 88.7 FM, for more than two decades. In deference to KDB, KUSC did little to localize KQSC’s programming.
“We understood that KDB had that strong presence as the local station, and we didn’t want to get in the way and destabilize that station,” Barnes said.
KUSC will add local programming to KDB and continue to broadcast performances by local classical music groups. It will drop local news and traffic reports, however, because KDB will not have a newsroom or studio, Barnes said. The asset purchase agreement doesn’t cover KDB’s staff and general manager, but Barnes said they would be considered for any open positions.
The acquisition gives KCRW a new foothold in Santa Barbara. Its Los Angeles signal reached the market only faintly, via a weak translator. “This will let us be in here deeper with more local content,” said General Manager Jennifer Ferro.
KCRW will augment its Santa Barbara signal with localized broadcasts of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Two announcer/producers will deliver the coverage in partnership with the Santa Barbara Independent newspaper.
With its news programming, KCRW’s new outlet will go up against KCBX, a public station in San Luis Obispo with a repeater in Santa Barbara. n
Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly reported that the 88.7 FM signal to be operated by KCRW is weaker than the 93.7 signal that will be used by KUSC. Though 88.7 broadcasts at a lower wattage than 93.7, it reaches 4,000 additional people, according to KCRW.