This week’s Bay Area radio shakeup saw KUSF‘s 90.3fm signal sold to classical station KDFC in a shady deal that paid the University of San Francisco $3.75 million to pull the plug on SF’s legendary community-oriented radio station, which had been on the air since 1977. KUSF will apparently still survive online, but given USF President Stephen A. Privett’s remark that the station “was of minimal benefit to my students,” one suspects it won’t be the same if/when it returns.
Without KUSF, San Francisco has lost its only above-ground freeform music station, and a major supporter of local independent music. This is, without question, a significant loss for the city, but it also got me thinking: how frequently did I listen to 90.3fm? The reality is, I’ve been listening to KUSF more online in the past few years than on the radio. Heck, the only time I turned on my radio recently was to listen to the World Series.
The role of radio for indie music fans has undoubtedly changed in the 21st century. Growing up, KUSF and KALX meant the world to me, helping form initial preferences that grew as I figured out what I liked and found other sources with whom I closely identified. But that was before blogs, before internet radio, before Bandcamp and Soundcloud, before 3G made access to good music omnipresent if you could afford the necessary device and the data plan.
Radio may no longer be the only medium for aural discovery, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t compelling reasons why we shouldn’t fight for its continued vitality. For one, the technological and cost barriers to online music mean that radio remains the indispensable medium for universal access, even while markets continue to be bought up and controlled by a small handful of profit-hungry corporations. Moreover, all the on-demand content in the world won’t take away radio’s effortlessness and that unique feeling of discovering a song over the airwaves. There’s something about giving up control of the playlist to a good radio DJ and hearing something exciting for the first time that can trump even the most impeccably curated personal mix. All of this means, then, that for those of us who can, and frequently do, opt out of traditional radio listening, the radio might not be necessary, but it still seems needed.
I’m curious to know your thoughts: Do you listen to the radio? Have online music options and iPods impacted your radio habits? Do you listen to online radio stations? If you were a KUSF listener, what are you going to do now? Post your thoughts in the comments.
Also, if you are interested in joining KUSF supporters in figuring out next steps in protesting the station’s sale, please do visit Save KUSF on Facebook.