At noon today the 91.7 MHz public radio facility that serves the Highway 101 corridor from King City south to Paso Robles (and communities west of there) passed from KUSP’s ownership to our colleagues to the south, at KCBX. KCBX now has three major transmitters: KSBX 89.5 in the Santa Barbara area; KCBX 90.1 for northern Santa Barbara County and most of San Luis Obispo County; and what will be (after the FCC approves a change in call letters) KNBX 91.7 north of that.
This change in ownership furthers the strategic plans of KUSP and KCBX, and has been under study by our stations for almost a year. For KCBX, the acquisition of the 91.7 frequency fills in areas of poor coverage in the northern part of their home county, San Luis Obispo, and adds coverage in more rural parts of southern Monterey County — a place that, culturally, has more in common with San Luis Obispo County than it does with the communities ringing Monterey Bay and the urbanized areas along 101 (from Salinas north to Silicon Valley), where almost all of KUSP’s audience lives and works.
For KUSP, this transition is a strategic move that accomplishes three important and interrelated goals.
First, it strengthens us in financial terms. That in turn makes it possible to keep moving forward in two critical programming areas — building a team to bring you the news and issues in our area that you care about, and building the capacity at kusp.org to get all our programming to our audience how they want, when they want, wherever they are.
In the past year KUSP has invigorated our news and information service, and you have responded. Our audience research indicates the station’s core audience — the number of people who depend on us more than any other station — is about 30% bigger than it was in early 2008, and as big or bigger than at any time in KUSP history. More people are tuning in more often, and stay with us longer. Audience size is not the only measure of how a public radio station serves its audience, but it’s significant.
And in the past year we have worked very hard to build kusp.org into a public media center that can carry our station and our values far into the future. The RadioEngage project, developed with our partners at Quiddities and supported by a generous grant from the Knight Foundation, is just about ready to go. We know that the choice and interactivity the Internet brings our community of listeners has changed, and will continue to change, our public radio world — profoundly and irreversibly.
Thirty-eight years ago, the people who started our station didn’t sit around and just pine for their own AM radio station — they went out and got an FM license, even though FM listening was only a tiny fraction of AM listening in 1971. They saw what the medium was capable of and moved to secure that capability for their community. We reap the rewards of their foresight around the clock, every day.
Now, we must do something nearly as bold. We need to strengthen the over-the-air service built on our founders’ foresight, and move — quickly — to build a great on-line service. If the world of public media moved more slowly, we might have chosen to wait until the economy had recovered, before charging ahead into the world of on-line listening and connectivity though mobile devices like the iPhone. But I think all of the professional and volunteer leaders at KUSP agree that it’s necessary for us to move assertively. This arrangement with KCBX is one step towards securing the substantial financial resources we need to go forward.
When KUSP put KBDH San Ardo on the air in 2001, we filled in one of the largest geographic gaps in public radio coverage in California. The transaction completed today maintains public radio service for everyone in or passing through the 91.7 signal area, something we felt was vital. And, having finished this particular transaction, we hope to explore future collaborations with KCBX in other ways that strengthen public radio in central California overall.
I wouldn’t leave this subject without thanking the hundreds of KUSP supporters in southern Monterey and northern SLO County who have listened and contributed to our station these past eight years. As Internet and mobile device technology improves (and this is happening at lightning speed) we’ll still be a listening option for many of you.
We hope that these changes benefit everyone in the long run. Indeed, we’re confident they will.