Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Smallest Radio Station in Los Angeles


Back in May of 2015 LA Weekly ran the story "L.A.'s Smallest Radio Station, 97.5 KBUU, Broadcasts Out of a Malibu Bedroom."  Station founder Hans Laetz figured prominently. Thought probably well-intended, it also described that radio station in the same terms you might describe a basement-dwelling teenager playing Minecraft.

"The KBUU-FM radio studio is in a ranch-style tract house, on a cul de sac on one of Malibu's few suburban-style streets. In what used to be Emily Laetz's bedroom, the detritus of a recently moved-out kid is everywhere. Puka shell necklaces hang near the door and a stack of Malibu High School yearbooks is piled on the desk, along with an LP (The Doors' Greatest Hits) and a wadded up clump of bathing suit. On the wall are a tide calendar from 2011 and a homemade a poster that says “Big Dume September 2007.”

In an era of tiny houses this tiny station begins to sound positive, perhaps even trendy. The article (which was actually very good) went on to to cite more tiny things about KBUU:

  1. It the only local radio station in Malibu
  2. It’s the smallest radio station in greater Los Angeles (by wattage)
  3. It's the smallest NPR affiliate in the world [here and here]

I think we should look at the merits of those claims currently and in a historical context because that's what we're here for.  So excluding repeaters below is a list of all the LPFMs in the Los Angeles area. As you can see, KBUU's 71 watts has 95% more watts than the three smallest (KFEP, KLDB, and KZUT) but in terms of pure wattage, ignoring HAAT, they still rank 10th in a field of 16 LPFMs at least nominally in the Los Angeles MSA. 

But KFEP only got their CP in 2019, that's years after that article ran. It's the same case with KLDB and KZUT was only a little earlier with a January 2018 CP. The closest was KZKA which was granted in 2016, and KQEV which was granted in November 2015, that's a mere 7 months after KBUU went on air with their original 2014 CP.

96.7 KGAP 50 Los Angeles
97.5 KHUG 100
99.1 KFEP 3 Los Angeles
99.1 KLDB 3 Los Angeles
99.1 KZUT 3 Los Angeles
99.1 KTPC 50 Venice
99.1 KWSC 100 Simi Valley
99.1 KWSV 7 Chatsworth
99.1 KLBP 100
Long Beach
101.5 KQBH 50
Los Angeles
101.5 KQSG 100
El Monte
101.5 KROJ 50
Panorama City
101.5 KZKA 25
Los Angeles
101.5 KHBG 100
104.7 KQEV 48
107.9 KQRU 100
Santa Clarita

KBUU hit the news again in 2019, when the FCC ruled cited them for operating at an unauthorized power on an unauthorized channel. That is a total no-no and can result in some big fines. Instead, the FCC lowered the fine to a more modest $6,000 and then waived it entirely stating "...we will cancel the forfeiture for inability to pay and instead admonish Zuma for the violations."  [SOURCE] That's not usually how that story ends. One gets the impression they're doing something right.They are still the only local station in Malibu.

KBUU has come leaps and bounds since it's initial CP. They were briefly the smallest radio station in Los Angeles but are no longer. Instead they led a trend of fully legal micro-broadcasters in the metro. In 2018 KBUU was granted two construction permits for boosters to further improve its signal in the Malibu area: one at 19 watts and another at a mere 2 watts. When it is constructed, the latter will be the smallest booster in the greater Los Angeles area.

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