KUSP license, assets, wine sold off to religious broadcaster

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A religious broadcaster emerged as the top bidder Tuesday in an auction for the broadcast license and other assets of bankrupt KUSP in Santa Cruz, Calif.

Educational Media Foundation won with a $605,000 offer, outbidding two competing parties: a local organization with ties to KUSP, and public radio station KCRW in Santa Monica, Calif. The religious broadcaster reached an initial agreement to sell at $400,000, before continued bidding drove up the price.

KCRW ended up as a backup bidder, putting it in line to buy the assets at $600,000 if EMF can’t complete the sale.

Community nonprofit Media Watch/Central Coast Community Radio raised nearly $95,000 on youcaring.com and failed in its bid. “Now the group is hoping to obtain a different radio frequency that would serve Santa Cruz, Watsonville, parts of Monterey and Pacific Grove, and possibly the Big Sur coast,” according to a press release.

KUSP filed for bankruptcy in August under nearly $850,000 in debt.

According to court documents, KUSP’s assets included broadcasting equipment, furniture, a music collection and “1 Lot Misc. Wine.”



  • dsearls

    What a damn shame.

    Why didn’t KAZU go for it? KUSP’s signal is much bigger, radiating from atop Mt. Toro, at 3556 feet above sea level, with line of sight over much more of Monterey Bay and Salinas Valley than KAZU sees from the antenna farm on Saddle Road in the foothills below Mt. Toro.

    I was in the cheering section for the original crew that put KUSP on the air, long ago. It’s a shame, I suppose, that they didn’t go the mainstream public (mostly NPR) route awhile back. That might have saved them.

    • Brad Deltan

      I think the problem was that the market wasn’t big enough to support two NPR news/talk outlets, and they tried to do an “all things to everybody” format (which rarely works) for way too long…then switched to an all-music that might’ve worked in time, but their heavy debt load didn’t give them that time.

      Anyways, I think KAZU didn’t go for it likely because they don’t have the money. Or more precisely, as California State University-owned licensee in a state where massive cuts to higher education have been an annual event for nearly a decade, I think if KAZU spent $700k some very large eyebrows would be raised quite high.

      • dsearls

        The market is big enough for two NPR/news/talk public stations. Or maybe even more.

        Right now Monterey-Salinas is the #125 Nielsen DMA. Almost tied with it is #124: Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-San Luis Obispo. Unlike Monterey-Salinas (which includes Santa Cruz), Santa Barbara, Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo are separated by mountain ranges. Santa Barbara especially is cut off from the rest by the Santa Ynez range. On radio, Santa Barbara gets nothing directly on FM from Santa Maria or San Luis Obispo. It does get fringe reception of some stations in Ventura-Oxnard, Los Angeles and San Diego.

        For a long time Santa Barbara had no local news-talk public radio; just a pair of weak translators for KCLU in Thousand Oaks and KCBX in San Luis Obispo. In other words, no local equivalents of KAZU or KUSP. That changed not long ago when a bunch of purchases and signal/source switches went down. Now there is an abundance of riches:
        KCLU/1340am + a 120-watt translator on 102.3 from Gibraltar Peak
        KDRW (KCRW over a 12kw signal on 88.7 from Gibraltar Peak)
        KSBX (KCBX with 50 watts on 89.5 from Gibraltar Peak)
        KPCC over a 10 watt translator on 89.9 from Gibraltar Peak

        These are all members of public radio chains (KCLU Thousand Oaks, KCRW Los Angeles, KCBX San Luis Obispo and KPCC Los Angeles). Of those, only KCLU is essentially local. KCRW does a fair amount of localization. KCBX and KPCC mostly don’t. (KCBX is often obliterated when weather favors the much stronger signal of KPBS from San Diego, coming in across the ocean.) KCRW also has a 10-watt all-music station (their HD2 channel, I believe): a 10-watt translator from a ridge overlooking town on 106.9. There’s all-variety KZSU/91.9 from UCSB, radiating from Broadcast Peak. Classical music is provided by KUSC from Los Angeles over 12kw KDB/93.7 on Gibraltar Peak. Finally there’s Pacifica’s KPFK/90.7 from Los Angeles, which is augmented locally by a 10-watt translator on 98.7 from Gibraltar Peak. All those translators sound fine, by the way, since they have line-of-sight to the whole town from sites high above it. (I believe there was even a time when KCLU’s old 4-watt translator topped the local ratings.)

        My point: this is large load of public radio, in a market smaller than Monterey-Salinas-Santa Cruz.

        Of course, Santa Barbara is a relatively wealthy town, and I’m sure that helps. But Monterey and Santa Cruz are very similar to Santa Barbara demographically, and are university towns as well.

        So, while I am sure KAZU is breathing a sigh of relief that KCRW didn’t grab KUSP’s abandoned license for 88.9, I also don’t doubt that there would have been a better public radio market in Montery-Salinas if KCRW had outbid the religious broadcaster that won.

        Looking at the Current piece from ’08 that Mike points to above, it’s a damn shame that the KUSP/KAZU deal Public Radio Capital (now Public Media Co) worked on didn’t pan out. That story and this one both read as refusals by Cal State Monterey Bay to look at opportunities beyond those they have with KAZU alone.

        And hey, maybe they’re right. The market’s appetite is moving toward streams and podcasts, and away from over-the-air signals.

        For example, a couple days ago we drove home to Santa Barbara from Half Moon Bay. Along the way we enjoyed KAZU from Santa Cruz to just south of Salinas, where terrain shadowing cut it off. Had the station been on KUSP’s old transmitter and sister signal on 91.7 in San Ardo, we could have heard it all the way down the Salinas Valley. But instead we brought up podcasts of Fresh Air (NPR), Open Source (WBUR) and The New Yorker Radio Hour (WNYC), which we listened to the rest of the way. The fact that KCBX picked up KUSP’s San Ardo transmitter (now called KNBX) didn’t matter. We can listen to streams anywhere and podcasts any time.

        That’s the future, but it isn’t evenly distributed. As long as there are still FM radios in cars and kitchens, and old fashioned tuning is still easier than tapping a phone over and over to drill down to the steams or podcasts people want, broadcast licenses with big signals will be valuable.

        KUSP’s signal went cheap, and to a buyer who took it out of the public radio portfolio. This was not a good thing.

        • Duncan Lively

          Hi Doc. Having served as GM of KAZU during its growth years (2005-2008), in programming and development roles at KUSP (2011-2015) and, now, as PD at KCLU, I see things from a slightly different angle when it comes to the markets’ capacity to support multiple stations.

          I don’t have the Nielsen Radio Market Reports at my fingertips, but it’s worth noting that the Monterey-Salinas-Santa Cruz market is significantly different from the public radio landscape to the south. For sure, the former has noteworthy pockets of wealth: Carmel Valley, Pebble Beach, Pacific Grove, portions of the Santa Cruz Mountains. But it also has a fair amount of poverty in places like Salinas, Watsonville and much of San Benito County. The larger signal there, KUSP’s, potentially reached about 650,000 people.

          By contrast, KCLU is fortunate. In the shadow of the LA mega-market, there is a deep hunger here for local news and listeners are willing to help with the cost. Moreover, we are fortunate to have many prosperous communities under our signal: western LA and southeast Ventura counties, Santa Barbara, the Santa Ynez Valley and San Luis Obispo. Per capita, I suspect the capacity for giving to public radio in the California’s south-central coast “tri-counties” region is in the upper quartile nationally. Moreover, KCLU’s potential reach is north of 1 million, a big jump over KUSP (and even more so over KAZU which has a smaller footprint.)

          With respect to the abortive KAZU-KUSP merger effort years ago, I had a seat at the negotiating table along with KUSP’s then-GM and Board President, a regional community foundation head, a colleague from Cal State Monterey Bay, a major donor to both stations and a seasoned consultant who was ready to broker a deal. Even then, the trend lines for KUSP were clear. Nonetheless, the University killed the deal. To a degree, institutional politics were to blame. But, CSUMB was also leery of going into business with KUSP — there were deep concerns about KUSP’s organizational culture which was an outgrowth of its fatally flawed governance.

          One hopes that the circular firing squad that is also known as Pacifica Radio will heed the lessons of KUSP. When programmers’ sense of entitlement conspires with a willing ignorance of audience behavior and deteriorating fiscal realities, an unhappy ending is sure to follow.

        • Duncan Lively

          Hi Doc. Having served as GM of KAZU during its growth years (2005-2008), in programming and development roles at KUSP (2011-2015) and now, as PD at KCLU, I see things from a slightly different angle when it comes to the markets’ capacity to support multiple stations.

          I don’t have the Nielsen Radio Market Reports at my fingertips, but it’s worth noting that the Monterey-Salinas-Santa Cruz market is significantly different from the public radio landscape to the south. For sure, the former has noteworthy pockets of wealth: Carmel Valley, Pebble Beach, Pacific Grove, portions of the Santa Cruz Mountains. But it also has a fair amount of poverty in places like Salinas, Watsonville and much of San Benito County. The larger signal there, KUSP’s,
          potentially reached about 650,000 people vs. about 500k for KAZU.

          By contrast, KCLU is fortunate. In the shadow of the LA mega-market, there is a deep hunger here for local news, and listeners are willing to help with the cost.
          Moreover, we are fortunate to have many prosperous communities under our
          signal: western LA and southeast Ventura counties, Santa Barbara, the Santa Ynez Valley and San Luis Obispo. Per capita, I suspect the capacity for giving to public radio in the California’s south-central coast “tri-counties” region is in the upper quartile nationally. Moreover, KCLU’s potential reach is north of 1 million, a big jump over KUSP.

          With respect to the abortive KAZU-KUSP merger effort years ago, I had a seat
          at the negotiating table along with KUSP’s then-GM and Board President, a regional community foundation head, a colleague from Cal State Monterey Bay, a major donor to both stations and a seasoned consultant who was ready to broker a deal. Even then, the trend lines for KUSP were clear. Nonetheless, the University killed the deal. To a degree, institutional politics were to blame. But, CSUMB was also leery of going into business with KUSP — there were deep concerns about KUSP’s
          organizational culture which was an outgrowth of its fatally flawed governance.

          One hopes that the circular firing squad that is also known as Pacifica Radio will heed the lessons of KUSP. When there’s a toxic brew of programmers’ entitlement, weak leadership, internal factionalization, a belief that one can ignore externalities reshaping media use and a deteriorating balance sheet, an unhappy ending awaits.

          • dsearls

            Thanks, Duncan.

            It’s helpful to have a fully informed post-mortem on the failings of both the KAZU-KUSP merger in ’08 and the loss this year of KUSP—as both the station it was and the better public radio entity that might have replaced it.

            Hate to say I’ve pretty much lost hope for Pacifica. I do hope some of its signals can be rescued if and when it fails. My guess, as a total outsider who knows approximately nothing other than the way the winds blow, is that the two stations on commercial channels (KPFA and WBAI) will sell for a lot of money to commercial interests, while the rest, all on noncommercial channels, can turn into normal-ish public radio stations, somehow. My own fond hope for Pacifica is that its amazing archive can be both preserved and made available in a more accessible and sensible form than they are now.

            For example, WBAI’s War and Peace reading (http://www.pacificaradioarchives.org/recording/pz0660a-b?nns=Tolstoy) is (at least to me) one of the great monuments in the history of broadcasting (and of the spoken word, period). But it sits, essentially, in a vault. (Or at least appears to, in that link.)

            Love KCLU, btw. Great work picking up and improving signals across the footprint, and doing a great job with local news and programming.

      • Duncan Lively

        Hi Brad. KAZU operates under the auspices of the Cal State Monterey Bay University Corporation, a 501(c)3 that oversees activities like campus food services, housing, and other “business-like” activities. While KAZU was growing audience and listener-sensitive revenue in its first few years under CSUMB ownership (I was its GM from 2005 to 2008) there was direct cash support. But, to the best of my knowledge, KAZU has booked a surplus for many years and has been wholly self-sufficient, even when in-kind services and indirect costs are factored in.

        My best guess is that CSUMB administrators rolled the dice and hoped that KQED or some other out-of-market operator would fail to match Ed Media’s deep pockets. Obviously, their bet was correct and now KAZU enjoys a broadcast monopoly (yes, KQED penetrates the market, but it’s a rimshot.) Given its new king of the hill status, let’s hope KAZU doesn’t succumb to the same hubris and sense of entitlement that fueled KUSP’s demise.

        • Brad Deltan

          Hi Duncan, thanks for the extra info. To be clear: I wasn’t commenting on KAZU’s finances per se. I figured that in general they had to be financially self-sufficient because there’s precious little money for subsidies left in the CSU or UC systems these days. Or any state-run University, for that matter.

          But I think you’d agree that POLITICALLY if a CSU-owned entity spent that kind of money it’d have very negative optics. I’m sure a lot of internal stakeholders at CSUMB would be highly pissed…regardless of the reality of the numbers…that the radio station gets to blow $700k when they’re suffering cut after cut to their budgets every year. That doesn’t begin to address the external stakeholders; I’m sure some “tax freedom” group would raise holy hell (pun intended) over it.

          • Duncan Lively

            Point taken. Even when money is not taken from the classroom, it’s seen as “money taken from the classroom.” Gah!

            In fact, this is why our Working Group’s preferred option years ago was to form an arms-length 501 “friends” group to operate the new joint entity. This would have insulated the station from the vicissitudes of university politics, shielded the programmers from the flakier elements within KUSP / Pataphysical (who rightly saw the handwriting on the wall for block programming) and remake the workforce as needed from top to bottom. All common sense stuff, hence it was doomed from the get-go.

          • Brad Deltan

            ROTFLMAO! “Doomed” indeed! :)

    • A KAZU-KUSP deal failed to gel several years ago: http://current.org/2008/03/stations-court-flirt-propose-and-part-by-monterey-bay/

      At the time, CSUMB was looking to spend LESS on KAZU. And if they’d bought KUSP this time around they would have been taking on a station in the red, probably an even less appealing prospect.