KCRW, KUSC pair up to secure Santa Barbara’s KDB for pubradio

By Ben Mook

three-way transaction involving Los Angeles pubcasters KCRW and KUSC will bring more public radio options to listeners in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Under a deal announced Feb. 18, KCRW will buy 93.7 KDB-FM, a commercial classical station for 88 years, but will not broadcast on the frequency. Instead, all-classical KUSC will move to the channel and transfer its 88.7 FM signal in Santa Barbara to KCRW. KCRW will turn its new acquisition into an outlet for its hybrid format of news and contemporary music, with localized content within NPR newsmagazines.

KDB’s licensee, the Santa Barbara Foundation,  put the classical station up for sale in October after years of six-figure losses and a determination that radio fell beyond its core mission. Public Radio Capital, the Colorado-based consultancy specializing in public media signal expansion, brokered the deal, which is expected to close in approximately 45 days.

The Santa Barbara Foundation sought a noncommercial buyer for the station that would continue the classical format, said PRC Managing Director Marc Hand. A market of Santa Barbara’s size could no longer sustain two classical stations, he said. KDB derived some income from listener support.

“This is really a perfect outcome,” Hand said. “If there hadn’t been a suitable option from a noncommercial broadcaster, then it would have opened up for commercial buyers.”

After the FCC approves the deal, classical music lovers in Santa Barbara won’t have to reset their radios, as the format will continue on 93.7 FM.

KUSC will also retain KDB’s call sign, said KUSC President Brenda Barnes. “KDB’s been the place to go for classical music in Santa Barbara since the late 1920s,” Barnes said. “This switch made perfect sense to us — it’s an honor for us to step in and maintain that heritage and history.”

KUSC has broadcast on KQSC, its Santa Barbara repeater signal on 88.7 FM, for more than two decades. In deference to KDB, KUSC did little to localize KQSC’s programming.

“We understood that KDB had that strong presence as the local station, and we didn’t want to get in the way and destabilize that station,” Barnes said.

KUSC will add local programming to KDB and continue to broadcast performances by local classical music groups. It will drop local news and traffic reports, however, because KDB will not have a newsroom or studio, Barnes said. The asset purchase agreement doesn’t cover KDB’s staff and general manager, but Barnes said they would be considered for any open positions.

The acquisition gives KCRW a new foothold in Santa Barbara. Its Los Angeles signal reached the market only faintly, via a weak translator. “This will let us be in here deeper with more local content,” said General Manager Jennifer Ferro.

KCRW will augment its Santa Barbara signal with localized broadcasts of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Two announcer/producers will deliver the coverage in partnership with the Santa Barbara Independent newspaper.

With its news programming, KCRW’s new outlet will go up against KCBX, a public station in San Luis Obispo with a repeater in Santa Barbara. n

Questions, comments, tips?mook@current.org

Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly reported that the 88.7 FM signal to be operated by KCRW is weaker than the 93.7 signal that will be used by KUSC. Though 88.7 broadcasts at a lower wattage than 93.7, it reaches 4,000 additional people, according to KCRW.

  • eric deweese

    For the record, the 93.7 signal and the 88.7 signal are virtually the same. The two stations broadcast from the same site: 12.5KW @ 2198 feet for 93.7 vs. 12.0KW @ 2178 feet for 88.7. — eric deweese, kusc

  • Fred Fletcher-Fierro

    Let me get this straight. KCRW is buying a station 93.7, then allowing another station KUSC to broadcast on that station 93.7, and KUSC is trading 88.7 for 93.7 so that 93.7 can continue to play classical music? Why trade frequencies? Why doesn’t KCRW with broadcast on 93.7? Just because classical music has been playing on the station for 88 years?

    I personally would like to see KCRW expand into areas where the 91/5/105 cross the 605. This is where the Santa Monica signal gets fuzzy.

  • eric deweese

    The seller, the Santa Barbara Foundation, wanted KDB 93.7 to remain classical.

  • Aaron Read

    Arguably KCRW is going up against KCLU than against KCBX. KCBX has expanded their news offerings considerably as of late, but KCLU went all-news a long time ago, and has a locally-based reporter (which KCBX, AFAIK, does not).

    All this is changing a lot in recent months; used to be that KCLU was Ventura and Santa Barbara, and was pretty strictly news/talk. KCBX was more SLO/Central Coast, but also happened to be in Santa Barbara, and had a more eclectic format. That changed when KCLU bought a new station in Santa Maria, and now its changing even more with KCRW moving into the picture.

    KCLU has worked very hard to become as much the “local” NPR station to Santa Barbara as they can be. They have a small FM signal, and rely heavily on an excellent AM signal that covers the coast/population nicely. But it’s still AM and AM is waning in listener popularity very fast, even though it has significant technical advantages in that region because of the saltwater paths and severe mountainous terrain.

    The frequency swap is so classical music stays on 93.7, although given how highly Santa Barbarans prize locality and how much they think the world ends past Montecito, perhaps Ventura (certainly LA doesn’t exist; that’s “off the map”) I don’t know how much KDB fans will be mollified by KUSC’s offerings appearing on 93.7. I guess it depends on how well KQSC (the 88.7 repeater) was doing in the ratings beforehand.

    So what’s gonna happen to the existing translator for KCRW that’s already in Santa Barbara? Is KCRW going to sell it? Keep their existing LA-focused programming on it? Change it to repeat 88.7?

  • Pingback: KDB Classical to become a Public Radio Station | PRC Blog()

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