KUSP
Independent radio is to independent music as a mug is to coffee.

Yes, it’s possible to consume and serve multiple people without it, but it is certainly less burdensome to have handy. While there is no shortage of radio stations taking up space over the hill in the Monterey Bay area, there is a shortage in terms of quality and independently operated music and if 88.9 KUSP is unable to reach the fundraising goal of $300,000 by the end of April, simply put, the station will be forced to shut down.

Bonnie Primbsch is the Interim General Manager of 88.9 KUSP, an archetypical “left-of-the-dial” format of independent and locally curated news and music that aptly resonates with its listenership, has launched a Mayday, M'aidez! fundraiser. Combining the term used by pilots and sailors when requesting help with the literal French "help me," Primbsch is calling for a rally. In a brief discussion with The Bay Bridged, she offered insight to the station’s history and where they stand currently.

The Bay Bridged: I understand 88.9 KUSP has been around since the '70s, under a variety of different formats. The most recently ditched format was an NPR format, correct? What would you say spurred the initiative to ditch the NPR format and to go with the music you did pick?

Bonnie Primbsch: Yup, the station started in '72, doing music and some grassrootsy news and interview shows. Then in '84, KUSP introduced NPR to the Monterey Bay area, adding the news and a few other shows in between our locally-produced programming. In the early aughts, a neighboring music public radio station in Pacific Grove was adopted by Cal State University Monterey Bay. They switched KAZU to NPR programming and brought in shows we didn't already carry. We noticed a dip in our listenership and, for a while there, we cut out more of our midday programming to compete head-to-head with NPR. Eventually we realized diversifying would be better for listeners, and proposed teaming up with KAZU to do that collaboratively. By the time we understood definitively that CSUMB wasn't interested, and that other affinity stations weren't available for collaboration either — the redundancy in programming had enough of an effect on our bottom line that we made the hard decision to replace all our NPR programming with the great indie music mix you hear today.

TBB: Is it mostly jockey prepared and personality curated or do you currently follow another format?

BP: We made the switch just in November from a AAA music library offered to us by another station back east — and at first, the playlists it generated sounded like they were from another place. We quickly put a team of our music programmers on curating the whole library — every week adding more of the indie and R&B tunes you hear now, and weeding out some of the more outlier-ish tunes that didn't jibe with the mix they were molding.

In a way, the mixes resemble the 'music discovery' format you would hear on public radio music giants KEXP in Seattle or KCRW in Santa Monica — but we're not just a music mix station. On the evenings and weekends, you can catch deep-dive explorations into particular genres of music, hosted by experts of those musics — jazz, soul, music from various parts of the world, and local classical music performances...So you not only hear great artist collabs and genre-busters, but can also school up on the origins of those musical influences. We also sprinkle in some thoughtful interviews, storytelling and info on the latest in medicine, geekery, and other community information and perspective. So though KUSP sounds fresh and new, we're still a one-stop shop of great radio like we've been for 44+ years. Still, the switch from NPR to music was rushed for us, and abrupt for our listeners — We are all re-sorting themselves, and many of our news-reliant listeners are no longer with us. So, we're appropriately down to a smaller, enthusiastic audience, and adjusting accordingly.

TBB: Halfway through the month, how far from the fundraising goal is the station? Where did that number come from?

BP: OK. It's a steep goal. $300,000. That's enough to fund us half a year or so. But having that in hand means we have a hope of building on what we have started and cranking up the musical relationships — with local and touring artists, music presenters and venues, and can get to know our new listenership and their needs. Without it, we live the life of a starving artist, spending more time than we'd like on identifying where the next dollar is coming from, and not enough time on the craft of radio. That's a breezy way of putting it. The real deal: we run out of money just after April — like no reserves to float us when our key machinery breaks down, or our 12-year old servers, or anything. So $300k means we literally have enough to keep going. There's some outstanding debt from the old format, too, so $300k means we can spend on operations and have time to smartly pay down the debt, too.

TBB: If the goal isn't met, is there another format in line or will 88.9 be dead air until the rest of the money is raised?

BP: If the goal isn't met, we just can't continue. There’s no other format in our back pocket, and it's an open question right now whether listeners will hear dead air, an uncurated mix of our library, or what. Our best hope at that point is to sell the signal to pay off our debts — then what listeners will hear is not likely to be indie or local, but something piped in from elsewhere.

TBB: Is there anything else that you'd like to add?

BP: Financial duress necessitated our format change, but as we've tuned the programming to our liking and found people responding enthusiastically, we have gotten more and more excited. We love what we're doing here, creating a welcoming space for the next generation of public radio listenership and leadership — and having a soundtrack to our lives. Being able to really crank the tunes around the office in the middle of the day — let me tell you, that is a welcome change! And this Mayday! campaign has us engaging more in the social media space, interacting with our new listeners, giving them a way to say their piece over the airwaves...this campaign has become the foundation for how we want to engage with our audience going forward. We're so energized! And we're in suspense.

It really does seem to come down to timing. If we can get some bridge funding to carry us over into stable finances, we'll be able to build on the strong foundation we're working from. Folks are tuning in to find out: can we do it? And at this point, all we can do is keep the phone lines open, make it easy to donate online, and hope the listeners and greater community respond to our plea to M'aidez. They are the ones who get to decide if we keep going past April.

Donations of all sizes are being taken through a PayPal account set up on the station's website through the end of the month.

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