More than five years after 90.3 KUSF was taken off the air, its former staffers have succeeded in securing another FM frequency and will be bringing back its version of community programming to the radio.
Last Friday the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) selected San Francisco Community Radio (SFCR), a non-profit organization started by KUSF staffers, and San Francisco Public Press to run low-power FM stations inside city limits. The two organizations will have to share a frequency, 102.5 FM, but the decision means that, barring any appeals by groups that were denied licenses, the once influential San Francisco radio station will be back on the air.
KUSF was started in 1963 at the University of San Francisco (USF) as a campus-only, student-run AM station, until it was offered an FM station ten years later. It then became a noncommercial educational station, and its programming was shared by students and local residents, who mixed a wide variety of music with news and cultural shows, many of which were in other languages (Chinese, Polish and 11 others).
"We're serving parts of the community that haven't really had a broadcast outlet," SFCR treasurer Damin Esper said. "There are so many symbiotic relationships there. We broadcasted a show in Polish; where is Polish on the commercial or non-commercial radio dial now?"
The station began 24-hour programming in 1981, and would go on to receive several awards and recognition for its work, including having San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown declare April 25, 1998 -- the station's 35th birthday -- as “KUSF 90.3 FM Stereo Day In San Francisco.”
KUSF was suddenly taken off the air back in January of 2011 after USF sold its license to a University of Southern California-owned corporation that runs classical stations. KUSF's old frequency is now occupied by KDFC, the "Bay Area's listener-supported classical radio station."
Former KUSF staffers fought the sale but lost, yet they kept the programming alive with an online station called "KUSF in Exile." Then in 2013, the station applied for a FM license and after three years, a decision was in their favor.
Now the two groups -- SFCR and San Francisco Public Press -- have until July 22 to determine which group will air at what times and if they don't, the FCC will decide for them. They will also have two years to set up a transmitter and raise funds for all the new equipment, which is a challenge since the signal won't reach far beyond the city limits.
"We aren't going to get millions of people listening but we're going to hit some groups that aren't franchised by broadcast radio anywhere else, and that's kind-of the intent," Esper said.
Correction: This article originally stated that the SFCR and San Francisco Public Press had two years to decide on what times their programs would air -- they actually only have until July 22. They have two years to begin broadcasting.