Former USF radio station going back on airwaves

by Thomas K. Pendergast

After a seven-year exile, KXSF radio will be launched back onto the airwaves at 102.5 FM, on July 10, to bring its free-format, non-commercial programming to San Francisco.

Formerly known as KUSF, the entire staff was booted from the University of San Francisco (USF) in 2011, when the Federal Communications Commission license for their spot at 90.3 FM was sold by the university to a corporation owned by the University of Southern California, which operates classical music stations. According to media reports, USF received $1 million for the license, the programming was changed and the station was rebranded KDFC.

The former KUSF launched in 1963 as a campus-only, student-run AM station. Ten years later, it was offered an FM slot on the dial and became a non-commercial educational station. In 1981, it began 24-hour programming. Over the years, it received several awards for broadcasting excellence.

KXSF01 copy

 Radio personalities Gage “D.J. Gage” Kenady (left) and Henry “Hank” Wimmer get
to work putting the new KXSF radio station in order. Photo: Thomas K. Pendergast.

Now renamed as San Francisco Community Radio (SFCR), with the new call letters KXSF, the station will operate for 12 hours of the day, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and then from 10 p.m. until 4 a.m.

The organizers at the station plan to share the new frequency with the San Francisco Public Press (SFPP), a local newspaper published quarterly, but SFPP staff said they are not ready to go on the airwaves quite yet.

Since losing their FM spot in 2011, KXSF has been live streaming programming on the Internet, a move which kept the station alive but cost it a lot of its audience.

“No matter what you’ve heard from your tech-savvy friend, nobody listens to online radio stations,” said Damin Esper, SFCR’s treasurer. “They will listen to Pandora or Spotify, and they will sometimes listen to an online radio station that is connected to a broadcast signal.”

People who listened to local radio stations, for example, but then moved out of the area are the most likely audiences to stream the station on the Internet live.

“But, those are the only ones that get significant listenership,” Esper said. “We probably have a couple of dozen regular listeners right now and we will hopefully have a couple of hundred regular listeners to start with (after launching 102.5 FM) and hopefully build on that.” He said they would like to see that grow to at least 1,000 regular listeners.

Since SFCR is a non-profit organization, it will be commercial-free, although some underwriter announcements, similar to the ones on KQED and National Public Radio, will be broadcast.

The volunteers will broadcast from Lightrail Studios, located at 672 Toland Place.

Although there is no paid staff, the station is all volunteer at the moment, organizers faced a financial hurdle, needing to raise at least $50,000 for a transmitter and related gear. From grants and donations both large and small, they managed to get the required equipment and add a padding of another $10,000 to cover near-term operating costs.

“We’re still raising money because I’d like to have a bigger cushion than we have,” Esper said. “We’re looking for donors. We’re looking for underwriters and all that.”

D.J. Henry Wimmer said the station’s free-form format gives San Franciscans an interesting alternative to commercial radio.

“There’s a lot of good radio in San Francisco but corporate radio has become less challenging in the last decades, and so independent radio is crucial for providing the public with a lot more depth of music,” Wimmer said. “It’s really an opportunity for the listener to have a sense of discovery and feel a kinship with artists in San Francisco.”

Wimmer noted the station will still be streaming live over the Internet for those who no longer live in the Bay Area but want to stay loyal listeners.

“That’s great when people in different time zones, in different countries even, can listen to what we’re doing here locally in San Francisco,” he said. “We’re even more energized that we’re going to reach a lot more San Francisco with 102.5 (FM) because a lot of people just listen to the radio in the car, or they listen to radio as they’re getting ready for work in the morning. So, we’re hoping people just roaming down the dial doing a search will stumble across us and be like, ‘what is that song?’

“We really have no one sound that we play, and I think that’s one of our strengths. We’re all over the map but we all strive for quality,” Wimmer said.

One of the more eclectic KXSF D.J.s is Gage Kenady, who often chooses music for his show based on various themes.

“I do a birthday segment every week,” Kenady said. “I find birthdays and play music by those artists, even if it’s just the bass player or the cowbell player; it gives me the excuse to just play a record.”

He also does “death tributes” to musicians and singers who recently died.

“Today I did D.J. Fontana, the drummer for Elvis, and Nick Knox, the drummer for The Cramps,” Kenady said. “I started with Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy, the guitar player with the Blues Brothers. I played stuff he did in sessions prior to the Blues Brothers. I finished with this French avant-garde musician, Gerard Hourbette. He died last month but I just found out about it. He was a violinist and composer for the group called Art Zoyd.”

Kenady also finds strange holidays, like National Kissing Day, and then selects songs with the word “kiss” in their titles. Or, he will pick out singles from his vinyl collection and just play the B-sides.

“I try to bring people stuff they don’t know,” he said. “I call my show, ‘the show that shows.’

“I always loved radio. I can’t wait for us to go on the airwaves because there’s something magic about sound waves flying through the air and coming into your home.”

The staff at the SF Public Press is hoping to join KXSF on the air sometime in the next year. Lila LaHood is Public Press’ publisher.

“Right now we are still working on fundraising and we’re developing exciting programs,” LaHood said. “We’re going to be focusing on news and public affairs programming.”

Stacy Bond is the program director for the newspaper.

“We’re going to have the morning drive time and the late afternoon drive time, when people typically would be listening to public affairs programming,” Bond said. “The idea is to really reflect the listenership and reflect the City in a way that is maybe not on the air right now.”

LaHood said volunteers are working hard to get the station ready.

“Their programming has already been in place and happening for some time,” Bond said. “We’re building the programming from the beginning and the funding is going to make a big difference for us.”

For more information, go to the website at http://kxsf.fm.

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