Blog about KUSP

KUSP Succeeds at First Membership Drive Since Format Change

Independent public radio station exceeds “mini-drive” challenge by 25%, secures Community Foundation Santa Cruz County Challenge Grant.

KUSP's new 2016  logo

KUSP’s new 2016 logo

The success of a two-day, on-air “mini campaign” indicates strong listener support for the new music format adopted by independent public radio station KUSP 88.9 fm.

The December 30–31, 2015 membership campaign was the first on-air pledge drive since the station switched from predominantly news and information to a music-centered format on November 1, 2015. Listeners from throughout the Monterey Bay region and from outside the area – who listen online at – made financial contributions.

Read a related January 9th article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

“The team had a lot invested in this membership drive,” said Interim General Manager Lee Ferraro. “It was important to see how the community would respond after listening to the new format for two months. The results indicate a healthy level of interest in what’s being broadcast on 88.9 fm and a willingness on the part of the community to support KUSP’s music format.”

The success of the drive means KUSP 88.9 fm was able to meet a $10,000 challenge grant from Community Foundation Santa Cruz County. The drive raised $12,500 from 120 members. Of note is the larger percentage of new members as compared to recent campaigns: 34% of memberships came from new members in this drive versus an average of 22% over the last five similar on-air campaigns.

Financial support from contributing listeners, local businesses, and local non-profits typically represents nearly 90% of KUSP’s annual budget. Nationally, public media outlets rely heavily on individual listeners who become financial contributors. On average, an individual will listen for as many as five years before choosing to contribute financially.

KUSP has struggled financially over the years, particularly since the 2008 recession. In September, the Board of Directors voted to switch formats after acknowledging that KAZU, supported by California State University, Monterey Bay, had achieved the dominant position with its news and information programming.

“It is encouraging to see the community support the new format so quickly,” said Board President Kelly O’Brien. “We think KUSP will bring a richness of music discovery and arts and cultural affairs programming to the region, thereby broadening the overall public media available to the community.”

KUSP intends for its programming to be reflective of the region and encourages feedback via email at

New GM Blog Post (December 14, 2015)

This past week we implemented the final programming revisions at KUSP. A few people have asked how do you make decisions about what programming to put on a particular day and time?

To arrive at our new program schedule that, first and foremost, underscores the need to build a sustainable service, we held a meeting with representatives from KUSP’s Community Advisory Board, the Board of Directors and radio staff.

Our discussions were guided by 3 wisdoms of radio success:

  • Programming creates audience
  • Radio stations succeed when they have a clear identity with a distinct appeal and
  • Continuity, consistency and character contribute to identity and trust.

Thus a diverse music format must have consistent hosts and be available as often, or better yet, whenever listeners want it. So KUSP’s music mixes, our main format, needs to be broadcast regularly 7 days a week. To augment our unique mixes we aimed to align affinity programs that would attract many daytime mix listeners as well as draw new listeners. Additionally, respecting the music legacy of KUSP and the Monterey Bay region were high, internal priorities.


The planning group restored Classical music to its origins on KUSP, Sunday mornings and evenings. The Sunday morning show, On-Site, will include recorded performances of regional classical music ensembles – a long held tradition here at KUSP. Classical Tune-Up is heard Sunday evenings at 7 p.m. Classical music may not be a great fit with our contemporary music mixes but we feel that is does serve two underlying values many KUSP listeners share: curiosity and openness.

Jazz is enjoying a higher profile on KUSP starting at 8 p.m. weeknights, due to Jazz music’s national, even international identity with the region – most notably the Monterey Jazz Festival and Kuumbwa Jazz. Naturally Jazz has a deep legacy on KUSP and we’re happy that more people will be able to hear it in its early evening time slot.

KUSP is now THE radio station to get your groove on! Due its popularity and a seemingly synergistic vibe with the area the KUSP Soul Shack is kicking off your weekend every Friday evening at 6 p.m. and keeping it strong on Saturday evenings starting at 6 p.m.

KUSP’s Evening of Ideas weekdays at 7 p.m. is a journey into some of the most thought provoking radio on the radio. Both Rick Kleffel’s Agony Column and Robert Pollie’s 7th Avenue Project are produced in the KUSP studios and air Monday and Tuesday evenings respectively. Award winning programs, The Moth and This American Life round out the week on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. KUSP’s Evening of Ideas — it’s whole brain food to go with your dinner.

Some other long time favorites, Brett Taylor’s Latin Quarter and It Takes All Kinds, KUSP’s program featuring World Music and its connection to American music, both get an additional hour on Sunday afternoons.

Not new, but newly formatted “Community Voices” carries on the tradition of local individuals sharing their insights and perspective. The writers on First Person Singular and Gary Patton’s Land Use Report are now heard more frequently. Environment reports produced by JD Hillard and volunteers are also folded into the music mix more often. Special music reports by Eric Berg, film reviews by Dennis Morton & David H. Anthony and the KUSP Arts Calendar produced by Sabrina Eastwood are also enjoying a new presence at 88.9fm.

Sadly, we bid adieu to Saturday night’s Sweet Power. Host Alex Burke holds down several duties at KUSP including weekday morning drive host. She and Sweet Power on Saturday nights will be missed by many but we realized being at KUSP 6 days a week wasn’t as much fun as it sounds. Tune in for Alex every weekday morning at 6 a.m.

We believe our planning group has put together the most unique music radio station anywhere heard along the long coast of California.

Your feedback and music suggestions are always welcome at

Lee Ferraro

Interim GM, KUSP 88.9fm

New GM Blog Post

November was a very eventful month at KUSP. My kudos to the staff, my thanks to the community (including the KUSP Community Advisory Board) and my appreciation to the Board of Directors for their unwavering support. The switch over from a mixed NPR news/info/volunteer music format to a format centered around music discovery is one month old today!

Initial feedback from the community about the music programming has been very positive. Compliments emailed to us about the music mixes have been running nearly three to one in favor. The staff and I truly appreciate all feedback, both positive and less so. We want the station to be reflective of the region, so your input truly matters — please keep it coming to

The next phase of programming changes is expected early this month, tentatively December 7. Phase One launched on November 1 and focused on the “dayparts” affected by the move away from NPR programming. Phase Two will address changes to the evenings and weekends to better align these “dayparts” with the weekday schedule. The guiding principal here is that more consistent adherence to an overall format will give KUSP its best chance at long-term sustainability.

Membership in the station is holding steady, which is good news and an important metric to watch relative to the station’s long-range stabilization plans. Thank you to all renewing members, to members who have increased their gift levels, and to all new members. Member support always matters — and it matters even more in these early stages of creating a unique sound that integrates music discovery and community voices to reflect our unique region back to itself.

Underwriting is another important component of the station’s overall financial health. Both the staff and the Board of Directors are very active in this area at the moment, working diligently to bolster this key aspect of the business so that it achieves its full potential as quickly as possible. If you own or know of a business that might benefit from sponsoring KUSP, please contact Lola Brice at

To set expectations, the Board of Directors and I are planning for it to take as many as three years for KUSP to truly stabilize. By that time, it is expected that KUSP will have succeeded in achieving a relevant regional identity; it will have increased listenership, membership and major gifts; and it will be consistently delivering a highly valued public service offering. People will be saying, “I can’t imagine life here without KUSP!”

Finally, the Board of Directors and I have been fielding some questions about how the station will utilize volunteers and how to potentially get on the air with a new segment or show. I’d like to address each of these questions here:

The Board of Directors intends that KUSP will be run by professional staff. Ample air time has been made available to qualified volunteers who consistently demonstrate an ability to create high quality, listener-focused radio. The boards — both governing and advisory — are themselves made up of community volunteers. There is, has been and will continue to be significant and meaningful volunteer involvement from the community in the overall workings of KUSP.

Anyone is free to submit a proposal for a new segment or show. Proposals will be reviewed by station management for mission fulfillment, sustainability, funding, affinity with existing programming, the ability to engage an audience and a high standard of quality equal to existing programs. The station staff will have sole editorial and content purview, acting in accordance with policies set by the Board of Directors and leveraging the Community Advisory Board in its advisory capacity. Proposals will be considered in early 2016.

More soon…

P.S. For those of you who have chosen to discontinue your membership, the Board of Directors and I respect your decision and we thank you for your past support of KUSP. Remember that we are in the very early stages of creating a unique sound that integrates music discovery and community voices to be reflective of our unique region, so do check back from time to time. Perhaps a future day will arrive when you again discover something on KUSP that makes your heart sing.

KUSP’s Interim GM Shares an Update


Public Media Company (PMC) Report Update

By Lee Ferraro, KUSP’s Interim General Manager

First and foremost a great thank you to all the community leaders, volunteers, KUSP Board, KUSP Community Advisory Board and the Community Leadership Planning Group (CLPG) for taking on the very difficult and time consuming discussions about the future vision for maintaining KUSP as an indispensable community resource to serve the Monterey Bay region.

The community has spoken, it has been listened to and heard. The PMC report was a culmination of open, frank and inclusive dialogue together with excellent thought leaders in public radio. Your work and input is invaluable and deeply appreciated.

Now is beginning of a transition. As the PMC report stated the financial condition at KUSP is not optimal and we must find our financial footing quickly. Fortunately this is a time of member renewal at KUSP and a member campaign is being readied for broadcast – October 15 through Oct. 23rd. Volunteers are being sought and thoughtful on-air messages, indicating the upcoming change and member appeals are being written. A letter appeal to KUSP members is in the mail as I write. Conversations and proposals to area Foundations are ongoing. We’re hopeful of positive outcomes on all fund raising fronts.

The PMC report strongly recommends a professionally staffed music station with considerable volunteer involvement in all phases of the operation: programming, Board governance, administration and outreach. Designing and building this unique “architecture” is in process.

Much thought and consideration is given to the question “how do we best serve the audience in our coverage area with high quality, well supported public radio programming?”

A sample program schedule in the PMC report is just that, a sample. Painted with a broad brush, it’s an aggregate of several public radio music stations to give some flavor of the many possibilities for KUSP and our coverage area.

Our programming mission evolves daily in response to many exploratory conversations. It is driven by an eclectic music vision, arts and cultural affairs, local voices, community stories and predominantly locally hosted. Fortunately there is much existing talent at KUSP and in our region. We can do this and do this well.

KUSP is changing to serve and to serve we must survive. You’ll hear many familiar and favorite programs but you may also miss one or two as we make this transition. Some changes won’t be easy but we believe KUSP will serve and will survive.

More to come…

Kelly O’Brien: KUSP Listened, Now Needs You to Do Same

By Kelly O’Brien, President of the KUSP Board of Directors:

Support by community leaders, listeners, volunteers and the general public make this fact irrefutable: KUSP 88.9 FM is a highly valued public service for the greater Monterey Bay Area. It is also clear that programing changes are necessary in order for it to remain an independent community resource. Through in-depth discussions, we’ve learned that KUSP must change in order to create a new and dynamic community media outlet.

The board of directors has adopted the recommendation of its well-respected consultant, Public Media Co., which is that KUSP must end the redundancy of news/information programming with KAZU in order to best serve the region. We believe this decision sets the stage for the existence of two compelling and complementary public radio services that deliver greater choice and greater variety to current and prospective listeners.

This is a pragmatic decision that expands creatively the local media universe. The greater Monterey Bay Area can support two vibrant and complementary public radio stations. KAZU offers a strong service built upon an NPR-based news and information service. KUSP has provided a very similar NPR service to its listeners with a growing audience since it switched to a predominately NPR news/information service in 2008. But with limited local media resources, we’ve asked ourselves this critical question: Wouldn’t our communities be better served by distinctly local, creative and exciting content?

KUSP is introducing programming that centers around eclectic music and music discovery. Eclectic, noncommercial music stations are rooted in their local communities, local music scenes and local arts and culture. No two public radio music stations of this type sound the same. KUSP music programming will be broad, deep and diverse, a true reflection of the greater Monterey Bay Area. The image is local, friendly, informative and personality-driven. We believe this is something at which KUSP will again excel, while acknowledging that there will be a transition necessary to get us there.

The key to success with this format is local involvement through local program hosts who are active in the community and visible at local events; contributions by listeners and music lovers; and local sensibilities expressed from across the listening area. The format is highly “elastic” — while rooted in music, it will enable KUSP to continue to deliver a thoughtful mix of local information, arts and culture to its listeners. These types of public radio stations reflect the fastest growing public radio format around the country and attract, on average, younger-aged listeners.

The shift represents a return to KUSP roots as a much-loved, independent, noncommercial music source with a distinctly local voice. It also ushers in a new era wherein we can leverage an exciting new format under new leadership in a way that reinvigorates KUSP. Our goal is to increase the relevance and sustainability of KUSP with radio and new media programming that reflects the deep and rich creativity of our region.

The board also has made a leadership change, naming Lee Ferraro as interim general manager. Lee has a great track record of transforming local public radio stations into financially secure, professionally run and much-loved media destinations. He brings demonstrated success with a locally curated music format to KUSP, having spent 16 successful years at WYEP in Pittsburgh, which he developed from a small, overlooked public radio station into an indispensable cultural institution.

Independent, local radio creating and reflecting all that we love about the area we call home. The construction hammers are out and we’re busy building a new and exciting KUSP that we hope you, too, will find engaging. We hope it pulls you in as a listener and actively engaged supporter.

We hope you will join us. Listen, talk to us, contribute in all the ways that you can. Change is challenging but we think this new future for KUSP is exciting. We hope you will think so, too.

KUSP and the 2015 Monterey Jazz Festival

For many years, at this time of September fans of jazz on the radio have been able to look forward to live broadcasts from the Monterey Jazz Festival on KUSP. We’re disappointed that we won’t be able to bring you Monterey Jazz Festival concerts in 2015.

The reasons why are multi-layered. Financial considerations are important, though not the only reasons. But it’s a good place to start.

MJF is, by far, the most expensive program KUSP produces all year. In recent years, our annual budget for three days of music from Monterey has run between $15,000 and $18,000. That’s more than our share of the costs for a full year (260 programs) of Fresh Air, or Democracy Now, or any other daily program other than Morning Edition or All Things Considered. These funds cover our paid personnel working on the program (most KUSP MJF workers are volunteers, but supervisors are paid), reimbursements to the jazz festival for costs they incur on our behalf, union scale for the artists required by their contracts (while some performers donate their payments from KUSP back to the station, most are paid), food and housing costs for our production crew, rental equipment, Internet connectivity… the budget spreadsheet is pretty large, and our work begins in earnest four months before the first note of the opening concert.

For the past twenty years or more, the majority of KUSP’s costs of producing MJF were met with grants from large foundations that invest in the arts in the Monterey area; the rest came from sponsors and from KUSP members. The “lead gift” from the foundations, though, has been the critical element. We sought funding back in the spring as part of our usual cycle, before we had to make firm commitments with MJF, but funding was not forthcoming in time.

If you follow KUSP closely, you know that we were under a lot of financial duress this summer. Without a secure source for the majority of MJF funding, we had no financially responsible choice other than to suspend the MJF live broadcast for this year. Most of the other parts of our Monterey Jazz Festival partnership are going forward; they are program underwriters (you’ve been hearing their announcements on KUSP this month), they donated tickets to us that we gave away to our listeners, many of our jazz programs this week feature MJF artists, KUSP jazz hosts will serve as Masters of Ceremonies at MJF’s Garden Stage, and we’ve got an extended interview with MJF Artistic Director Tim Jackson coming up that you’ll be able to find soon at

Which brings me to the non-technical considerations. Our format for MJF, consisting of live-as-they-happen concerts from the main Jimmy Lyons Stage, has remained unchanged for well over thirty years. The world of jazz has changed in that time, and the world of radio has changed even more. For a few years now Tim and his MJF colleagues have indicated a strong desire to keep the KUSP working relationship but develop a different approach to bringing the festival experience to our listeners. My hope is that after this time-out in 2015, we will come back next September with a new format for KUSP at MJF that works financially, has the full support of the Monterey Jazz Festival management, and gives music fans a great listening experience.

KUSP Schedule Changes for Summer

On Monday June 29 KUSP will make some adjustments to our weekday broadcast schedule. These are the first changes that are consequences of our work to re-envision KUSP and adjust to the economic realities brought on by the end of our efforts to find partner stations with whom we could work to further our mission.

The back story behind our visioning process is on-line at – so there’s lots of related information to see over there. On this blog I’ll just review the programming changes you can expect.

The most significant change for many listeners will be the end of our broadcasts of Marketplace, produced by American Public Media, or APM. KUSP has been a Marketplace station since 2008. You’ve heard their coverage of business and the economy weekday afternoons and also as part of Morning Edition.

We are discontinuing Marketplace on KUSP in order to reduce programming costs; on a minute-by-minute basis it is one of the most expensive programs KUSP acquires. Over the summer, as we finalize our new vision for KUSP, we will save thousands of dollars by not broadcasting Marketplace and extending All Things Considered (which will now air from 3:00 PM until 6:00 PM).

The way public radio programs are priced for local stations by distributors such as NPR and APM is very complicated, and not consistent from one program to the next. Depending on what we find as we complete our visioning and planning, Marketplace might return to KUSP later on.

We are also making a change in our early morning schedule. Morning Edition from NPR News will start at 4:00 AM, instead of 3:00. At 3:00 we will bring you Outside Source, from the BBC World Service. Hosted by Ros Adkins, one of the BBC’s best known and most respected presenters, Outside Source is a live round-up of breaking world news and is a little different in style from the more traditional news presentation of World Update, which continues on KUSP and will precede Outside Source at 2:00 AM. If your day starts early, the combination of World Update, Outside Source, and Morning Edition will give you an unmatched range of perspectives on the news.

Let me close by noting two other recent changes to what you hear on KUSP. After ten years, Kelly O’Brien has retired her twice-weekly feature on transportation, energy, and sustainability – Life in the Fast Lane. Kelly is a small business owner, a community leader, and volunteers as President of KUSP’s Board of Directors. These other commitments – especially her volunteer leadership role at our station – have made it impossible for her to devote the time Life in the Fast Lane needs. We’re sorry to see the program go, but very happy she’s continuing as part of the station leadership as we work through our planning and transition. The archive of Life in the Fast Lane programs will continue to be available at

Also, we are bidding farewell to Dylan Music, whose voice is familiar to regular listeners to KUSP’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Dylan has been part of our announcing staff since 2011. He leaves KUSP to take over from David Wittrock as the regular host of Morning Edition on KAZU, and we wish Dylan well in this next phase of his public radio career. Wins Second Straight ‘Murrow Award’ for Best News Site


We are proud to announce that the Radio-Television-Digital News Association has honored as the best broadcast-related web site in our region and market size. This is the second consecutive year we’ve been so recognized, and I want to congratulate everyone at KUSP who contributed to this accomplishment — in particular, Steve Laufer, who is our director of digital content, and J.D. Hillard, who is our producer for news/talk/information programming.

The strength of public radio news in the Monterey Bay area was demonstrated in this year’s competition, which drew over 4,200 entries in all categories. In addition to our award, KAZU received four Murrow Awards in 2015 — for continuing coverage, feature reporting, news series, and sports reporting. Combined, KAZU and KUSP won the majority of small market radio Murrow Awards presented in the region, which includes California, Nevada, Hawaii, and the Pacific.

Regional winners (there are 13 U.S. regions and an International category) move on to national competition this summer.

Congratulations to our friends at KAZU and to the whole team!

Farewell, Johnny Simmons

johnny simmons

photo credit: Steve Laufer

On Friday March 27 Johnny Simmons will host his final broadcast of Morning Edition on KUSP, ending a 20-year run as the voice our listeners wake up to on weekday mornings. Johnny retires after 35 years on KUSP’s professional staff, longer than any employee in our history, and a record unlikely to be broken.

Johnny’s history with KUSP reaches back even further, to our public radio infancy in the 1970′s; he volunteered at this station in that era, when he also worked at some of the best-remembered radio stations in this part of California. Wallace Baine wrote a little bit about Johnny’s grand radio odyssey when he introduced the 2015 Gail Rich Award winners in the pages of the Santa Cruz Sentinel here. And J.D. Hillard’s interview with Johnny for is here.

Not many of us at KUSP are “radio lifers” — the population of the station has always consisted primarily of volunteers, meaning that as much as they love radio, most of the folks at the station have (or had, before retiring) real jobs concurrently with the time they spend with us. And for the most part, the people in our paid workforce came to public radio after establishing a career in another field; print journalism, museums, technology, construction and real estate… just for openers.

In contrast, radio broadcasting and Johnny are inseparable. And looking back at the 38 years I’ve been hanging around one radio station or another, I’ve known no one I’d rather wake up to on the clock radio, or say hello to after coming through the studio door to start my work day, than Johnny.

Though the regular morning shift draws to a close tomorrow, I really hope our airwaves haven’t seen the last of Johnny Simmons.

Next Monday, Alex Burke moves in to the Morning Edition host chair, and I hope you’ll join me in wishing her a long and productive tenure in the role!

Some changes are coming to Morning Edition on November 17

On Monday, November 17, KUSP and all the other NPR stations in America will debut a slightly different version of Morning Edition.

In radio jargon, a “clock” is the hourly pattern of newscasts, feature stories, traffic and weather, and other things you hear. The clock makes it possible for stations to mix local news with the national broadcast in line with the needs of their community and the resources of the station. Every station does it a little differently.

The pattern for the different segments of Morning Edition supplied to us by NPR has not changed in decades (the show just celebrated its 35th birthday; the first broadcast was on November 5, 1979). While we have added and changed our own Morning Edition content steadily since the program came to KUSP in 1984, the NPR elements have not adapted with the times.

Last year NPR started a research project with a sample group of listeners nationwide to see how best to update the format of the show. Much negotiation with stations and other public radio producers ensued. On Monday you’ll hear the results of that work.

The most important finding was that listeners are, generally speaking, involved in a pretty massive multi-tasking effort while they listen to Morning Edition. People also have less time to take in the day’s news than was probably true 35 years ago.

On this side of the radio transmitter, local stations like KUSP have more capacity to cover the news in their area than they used to, and there are many regional and statewide news partnerships (such as The California Report and Capital Public Radio News) able to furnish top-quality coverage to compliment NPR’s strength at the national and international level.

For those reasons, the new clock provides more frequent newscasts – from the NPR newsroom in Washington and from our newsroom in Santa Cruz. The KUSP newscasts will include reporting from this area and the state coverage from Capital Public Radio News in Sacramento. The longer, more in-depth reporting from NPR that is the signature sound of public radio news stays – there’s no intention of dropping down to the 20-second story length that is typical for commercial all-news radio. This will be true for our longer stories about California news as well; you’ll hear those on The California Report at about ten minutes before six and ten minutes before eight, as you do now, and in stories by KUSP reporters at various times outside our short newscasts.

The times for some KUSP-produced features will change – for now, not very much, but if you have your alarm clock set to go off exactly when we start a feature like Life In the Fast Lane with Kelly O’Brien or our community commentary, First Person Singular, you might need to adjust those settings a little.

The changes to the clock, as I said, are prompted by gaining a deeper understanding of what public radio listeners want to hear in the early morning. In the next few months that information will inform more changes to how KUSP presents the news… but we’re taking this in stages, as opposed to changing everything all at once.

There will be less obvious changes to the clock for the other news programs NPR provides to KUSP – All Things Considered and Weekend Edition.

The changes to these programs have come with a lot of thought, and while any change at all can throw a person out of a long-established routine, in the long run we hope they will enable us to give you the news in a way that fits the life we lead a little better. If you have any thoughts about the new news lineup on KUSP, please share them with me.