San Francisco–In a sudden, secretive move, which may be a sign of worse to come for student and community radio stations, the Jesuit-run University of San Francisco (USF) shut down KUSF 90.3 FM, the 34-year-old student station. On Jan. 18 when the students were on break, the popular DJ Schmeejay was finishing his show when he noticed that no sound was going out over the airwaves. Shortly, he and others present at the time were confronted by security guards who ordered them to leave and then padlocked the station. The website was also shut down. University President Stephen Privett had been negotiating for many weeks, hiding behind a non-disclosure agreement, to sell the station to (the once-respected) KDFC for $3.75 million.
There was a whole series of shady money deals behind the scene. Entercom, which owned KDFC, sold it to the University of Southern California (USC), who then bought the 90.3 FM frequency from USF. The deal was handled by Public Radio Capital, an organization which has non-profit status but operates as a commercial enterprise. Even the Media Studies faculty, partly in whose name it was done, were not informed and they joined the protest immediately!
The next day, hundreds of students, community volunteers, faculty, and USF alumni flooded the Presentation Theater on campus and confronted Privett, demanding the return of the station and full disclosure. They accused him of betraying his Jesuit ideals.
Privett claimed that the station might benefit the community but was of little benefit to students, which student protesters answered, “You don’t speak for us!” “We’re all part of the community!” and “What happened to the ‘Core Values’ which you have been preaching?!” Privett’s claim that KUSF would continue as an online station turned out to be an outright lie.
Many of the station’s assets were donated by non-student community members, including much of the music collection, which the university appropriated. Everyone knows that it was just quick money.
Demonstrations to save the station are ongoing, and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors has condemned the sale (but it does not have the force of law). A petition is under way to block FCC approval of the sale, although this is a long shot. In one local newspaper an iconic photograph appeared, a parody of the Christ the Redeemer statue with arms outstretched offering comfort. In the photo Privett’s arms are thrown up in an expression of moral surrender, of “What the hell?!” He risks being remembered in that way. Everything he did was legal, but it was unethical and anti-social.
The protests have become an ongoing movement which is spreading nationwide. It is for public access to the airwaves, freedom of expression for minority views, community and student cooperation, and for openness in public decisions. Students and community radio stations from all over the nation have joined in solidarity with KUSF, including KALX Berkeley and WFMU Jersey City. The airwaves, like the air we breathe, the water around us, and the planet we stand on, belong to all of us. To help out, contact www.savekusf.org. Stay tuned!
–USF Students, Faculty, Alumni, and Community Members