The board of directors of KUSP in Santa Cruz, Calif., is recommending a sale of the station’s license after a fundraising campaign for its survival fell short.
KUSP’s entire staff of about five full-time employees will be laid off Friday, according to General Manager Bonnie Primbsch, who will be among those dismissed. The station’s regular programming will end at 1:30 a.m. Sunday, when it will switch to airing an automated playlist of Triple A music.
The station’s license is held by the nonprofit Pataphysical Broadcasting Foundation. Foundation members — consisting of about 90 active station volunteers and “lifetime members” — will vote at their annual meeting at 6 p.m. Pacific time Wednesday on whether the station’s license should be sold.
KUSP has been looking for ways to shore up its finances as it labors under debt amounting to around $700,000. Last year, it was considering a sale to the San Francisco–based Classical Public Radio Network. But KUSP received “miracle money” that provided a temporary reprieve, Primbsch said.
The station switched to a Triple A music format Nov. 1 in an effort to differentiate its programming from that of KAZU in nearby Pacific Grove, Calif. (The station had explored a possible merger with KAZU in 2008.) But the format switch wasn’t enough to help KUSP reach a goal of $300,000 in its most recent fundraiser. It was able to raise only about one-third of that goal, the station announced Sunday.
KUSP’s board is now recommending selling “the Foundation’s license and all substantial assets to a CPB-qualified buyer,” according to a letter to foundation members,
“The Board’s primary goal in this effort is to acknowledge that we cannot operate the station successfully in the current radio environment,” the letter said. “A sale would allow the station to pay down or off the Foundation’s debt and other obligations. The Board unanimously supports this course of action.”
“Should the Foundation reject this recommendation, we are not certain how the Board can pursue any other path than receivership or bankruptcy,” the letter said.
KUSP’s board is required to get approval from foundation members to sell.
However members vote, a paid station manager will be hired to keep the station running to meet FCC requirements with the help of board members, Primbsch said.
Too little, too late
KUSP was moving in a positive direction with the format change, Primbsch said, but its debt burden didn’t afford the station enough time to stay afloat.
Switching to music programming caused KUSP to lose some listeners who tuned in for news, she said, but the station was starting to draw a younger, more diverse audience. “People are hungry” for Triple A music, said Primbsch, who added that she would advise other struggling public radio stations to experiment with the format if they are competing with NPR stations in their markets.
But the new format didn’t generate income quickly enough to prolong KUSP’s life. “We started something really, really promising, and the timing’s just all messed up,” Primbsch said.
Primbsch said KUSP board members hope that “larger investors” might still intervene to save the station but that such a rescue is unlikely.
A new nonprofit, the Monterey Bay Regional Radio Trust, has presented an offer to KUSP’s board, according to founder Ed Porter. “I expect more reaction and comments soon,” he said.
Correction: An earlier version of this post mistakenly said that the KUSP board does not require approval from foundation members to move forward with a sale. It does require approval. This post has also been updated to reflect that a paid station manager will be hired to work at KUSP after the current staff is laid off.
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