Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Systematic Destruction Of Independent Media-- From KUSF To NBC


When U2 played San Francisco for the first time, March 19 and 20, 1981, their way of thanking me for doing the first American review of their first album was to have Romeo Void, a band on the small indie label I was an owner of, open for them. What a break for Romeo Void; there must have been 500 people there! Yesterday when it was announced that KUSF's place on the dial had been sold by the child-molesting organization that owns the University of San Francisco, I put a note up on my Facebook page and the first comment was by Hugo Burnham, drummer for the Gang of 4, a band whose first Bay Area concert was presented by KUSF:

The news seem to come as a total surprise to station workers. On Twitter, DJ Carolyn Keddy said, "Just showed up @kusf to my show and the doors are locked. USF has sold the station. Management was in on it. They're keeping all our records."

USF also said in its statement that all workers would be offered their jobs in the online-only era. We'll update with more info as we get it, but the SF music community is already reacting with sadness about the loss of the long-running staple of the scene. As musician Chuck Prophet noted on Twitter, "The apocalypse is here. Still reeling over KUSF being sold off." The station says an impromptu demonstration is planned for 7 p.m. tomorrow.

At 10 a.m. this morning, Irwin Swirnoff, a DJ and music director at KUSF, was doing some volunteer work in the station when he heard an alarming thing: silence. Or rather, the sound of static as USF, per an agreement with USC-owned Classical Public Radio Network, cut the transmitter.

To those present at the station, including the on-air DJ, Howard Ryan, it seemed that no one had been given warning of the sale.

"The hallways filled with people in suits, and others started to change the locks," said Swirnoff of the scene immediately after the transmitter stopped working. He, along with other station workers, didn't mince words about their feelings towards USF. "The university had been keeping this from us, hadn't involved us at all," said Swirnoff, speaking from the work room of KUSF, where he and other volunteers have been frantically pulling records of past ticket winners and music press, trying to get the word out that KUSF had been unfairly brought down.

University spokesman Gary McDonald affirmed that USF had kept information about the station's sale-- which was a $3.75 million deal-- quiet, but said that two of the four full-time workers did know about it. Discussions, he said, had been taking place for the past few months.

"The papers were signed on Friday," McDonald said. He cited confidential legal reasons as the cause of USF's silence to the station's volunteers.

Last week I had been talking with British writer Simon Spence, who's working on a book about Depeche Mode, about KUSF's role-- though only a low-power, noncommercial college station-- in breaking the band in America. We could have just as easily been talking about REM or U2 or a dozen other bands that went on to achieve multiplatinum status whose first records had no natural radio homes other than a small handful of adventurous college stations like KUSF.

One of my fellow djs at KUSF, Denise Sullivan, wrote a remembrance yesterday for Crawdaddy:
My on-air handle was Marie London, a fact that years later only moderately embarrasses me; George Ypsilanty was George Epileptic, Tim Maloney was Dim Tim and Rob Doumitt was “The Voice of Doom.” There was Anna Piranha, Steve Spinalli, Sue Sponge, Peter Standish and Rick Stuart ('til recently of KFOG-FM and the only one among us to hold forth as a big time Bay Area DJ known and loved by listeners today). There were others (I regret not remembering everyone), including a pre-new music staff, and professionals like Howie Klein, Richard Gossett and Beverly Wilshire to whom we reached out and helped us get it together. My point is that together we built a foundation on which decades of freeform broadcast tradition was allowed to continue and flourish, and so too our community–and that’s not something that’s easily broken or as simple to explain as an FCC license changing hands. I invite you to stay tuned here for further developments in the KUSF story following tomorrow night’s meeting at USF’s Fromm Hall at 7 p.m. and to participate with your own recollections of your involvement with the station. For now, my condolences go out to staff, DJS and listeners of KUSF-FM, “A cultural oasis in the desert of life.”

Lately, many of us have been morose and even surly because the FCC is making it extraordinarily easy for Comcast to take over NBC, something that appears to be rolling along inexorably, despite misgivings from both the public and many Members of Congress concerned about more and more concentration of media in fewer and fewer hands, and in situations where the public good always takes a back seat to private financial gain. Aside from Denise's post at Crawdaddy, I also got a newsletter from Minnesota Senator Al Franken:
A big disappointment today: The FCC and the Department of Justice have signed off on the Comcast/NBC merger, paving the way for a single enormous media conglomerate to obtain unprecedented control over the flow of information in our country.

I’ll be candid with you: This is an awful development for those of us who care about media consolidation. It will restrict your freedom of choice and raise your cable and Internet bills. And it could pave the way for even more media mergers and even less room for independent voices in the media.

But the fight’s not over. We’re building a grassroots movement to stand up to the special interests and stand up for middle class consumers. And every time an American learns more about what’s at stake in this fight, our movement grows stronger.

I know that these corporate elites have all the money and lots of influence-- even, it appears, with President Obama’s Department of Justice and an FCC chaired by one of his appointees.

And I know that this decision only validates their efforts to silence critics and punish dissenters.

But I’ve also seen how hard many of you worked to raise our collective voices and warn of the danger posed by corporate control of the media. And I’m confident that, if we take today’s setback as a cue to work even harder, we’ll win in the end and keep our media free.

...Remember, we can only stand up to the financial power of the corporate special interests with people power.

I guess I should have guessed that there would also be a note coming from the other Senate champion of independent media, Bernie Sanders (I-VT):
The Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice okayed the merger of Comcast, the nation’s largest distributor of video services, and NBC Universal, Inc., one of the nation’s largest producers of video content. In approving this merger, these agencies ignored their mandates to protect the public interest and preserve competition and, instead, caved to an all-out lobbying campaign by Comcast and its political allies. Commissioner Michael Copps, who has long warned against the dangers of media consolidation, was the lone dissenting voice at the FCC.

Needless to say, I am deeply disappointed in this decision. At a time when a small number of giant media corporations already control what the American people see, hear, and read, we do not need another conglomerate with more control over the production and distribution of news and other programming. The mega-merger of Comcast and NBC Universal will lead to less local news coverage, fewer points of view, and reduced competition for viewers and advertising, not just in Comcast’s network but throughout the country.

The merger will also make it harder for consumers to afford cable programming. According to the FCC’s former chief economist, consumers will pay $2.4 billion more in cable bills as a result of the merger. As the country struggles to recover from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, I find it unconscionable that millions of consumers will spend more for less, paying higher rates while receiving virtually no tangible benefits.

How much poorer the culture would have been without a KUSF! One high school kid who worked as a dj there went on to help create iTunes. How much poorer will we all be while the Jesuits are using their $3 million-plus to pay off the claims from lawsuits of the once-young boys they habitually molest!

But what a wonderful show it was:

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At 10:20 AM, Anonymous NY Vinnie said...

a sad day for music for freedom and for those of us who get a paycheck today because of what we learned at KUSF.

At 12:21 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

There aren't very many instances where I am all for vitriolic response, but this is one. I think USF deserves every bit of fury that comes there way after this cowardly, vapid move. I'm so angry I could spit.


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