Tuesday, January 18, 2011


KUSF is dead. At 10:02 AM today KUSF went off air suddenly mid-song. The news started to trickle out from the bay area a few hours later. There had been no preamble, no hints or rumors. The fact is that the University of San Francisco sold 90.3  to the University of Southern California. USC intends to use the 90.3 frequency as a part of their Classical Public Radio Network (CPRN) currently heard on 91.5 KUSC Los Angeles.

In much the same way that WCRB Boston, KING Seattle, and WQXR in New York all made the move from private to public, the change has come to San Francisco. This is a relaunch of the failed Classical Public Radio Network.  In this version Entercom is transferring moving the 102.1 KDFC programming to a simulcast on 90.3 KUSF San Francisco and 89.9 KNDL in Santa Rosa. KDFC is rumored to be flipping to Classic Rock. The move comes with a $3.75 million dollar price tag.
This all came as a surprise to me because I remember that only two years ago, on June 30th 2008 CPRN shut down its broadcast operations with KUSC and Denver Public Radio going their separate ways. KUSC and Colorado Public Radio began developing CPRN in 1998. But even at the outset it looked weak. Lacking it's own backers, the CPB had to lay out a $850,00 grant before the launch. Then after ten lean yearslater, it closed up shop. It made sense at the time, Classical is not a growth format. Ten years ago we watched the commercial classical panel shrink: WNCN New York, WNIB Chicago, KKHI San Francisco, WFLN Philadelphia, KVOD Denver, WQRS Detroit, WTMI Miami, KFSD San Diego and many others dropped the format.. More here. There are presently only about 20 commercial classical stations in the whole country and that number is still dropping.

At the time CPRN aired on about 60 stations and six HD Radio sub channels. CPRN laid off it's staff of 15. Left in the lurch, those stations had to generate their own programming or take one of the two existing classical satillite feeds: Classical 24, from American Public Media or Chicago’s WFMT Radio Network. CPRN never had more than about a quarter the affiliates of Classical 24. That same year an NPR study found the total number of news programming hours was growing while classical hours shrank or stagnated on public radio stations. Classical was in full retreat.  More here. The CPRN 2008 epitaph is here.
To get right to the point of it, statistically nobody listens to classical music. The roll out of PPM to the top markets only spelled out what we already knew.  According to the New York Times the top 12 radio metros (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles Etc) showed almost an 11% drop in the listenership of classical programming just in the roll out of PPM. That's a lot of AQH. In other words, this is a mistake and it's one that they've made before.