UPDATED: We Want the Airwaves: KXSF-FM Debuts Tuesday, July 10

Former KUSF DJs flip the switch on after a years-long legal battle.

UPDATE, JULY 6: KXSF programmers have had some technical issues and the station’s launch date has been pushed back until an unspecified date later in July.

The morning of Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2011 shocked the broadcasters at KUSF 90.3 FM. In the middle of a program, the transmitter for the 34-year-old station unexpectedly shut off, and the DJs were kicked out. Everyone present was told that the seminal station, which introduced alternative music to much of the Bay Area, had been sold for more than $4 million.

A 7-year-long battle ensued, in which KUSF volunteers and supporters lobbied the FCC to overturn the sale. The FCC eventually OK’ed the University of San Francisco selling 90.3 FM to the Classical Public Radio Network, but community radio supporters continued on. They created KUSF in Exile and San Francisco Community Radio (SFCR) as a nonprofit, online-only station and applied for a low-power FM license that would bring them back to terrestrial airwaves. (Full disclosure, I was a KUSF broadcaster for several years.)

On July 10, 2018, Later this month, that group of broadcasters will officially begin transmission at 102.5 KXSF-FM. The station will only reach San Francisco residents from its transmitter atop Sutro Tower, sandwiched between the hip-hop hits of Q102.1 and the R&B of KBLX — but it will pack plenty of cultural punch. Like the original 90.3 FM, KXSF will broadcast a wide variety of music, as well as educational, arts, and cultural programs in multiple languages.

“It’s a great vindication,” said programmer and music department head Gage Kenady, who joined SFCR in 2012. “The station was built from the ousted DJs of KUSF who … pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. It was a bunch of people who learned along the way.”

KXSF will broadcast for 12 hours per day, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., with a 24-hour online stream. The yet-to-be-finalized program schedule will be similar to SFCR’s and broadcasting will continue out of the station’s existing space in Bayview’s Lightrail Studios. (The remaining hours will be programmed by SF Public Press, which will share the 102.5 signal as KSFP which has yet to set a launch date while it develops programming and secures grants.)

“We’re focusing on news talk programming, cultural affairs and civic engagement, programming that’s going to be like public radio [but] with more of a fresh and very local view,” says KSFP Program Manager Stacy Bond. KSFP is developing a number of original and curated programs, along with partnership series that highlight ongoing events such as the Public Library’s LGBTQI Radar Reading series.

“San Francisco is the city of silos. … All communities have their own needs agendas and voices but they all work and organize and exist separately. There’s nothing we all really rally around; we want to be that opportunity,” Bond says.

Veteran KUSF DJ Carolyn Keddy, who has been spinning punk, garage, rock, and more since 1990, will be the first broadcaster on KXSF at noon.

“I’ve been stressing out about [that first show] and I’ve been trying to find the first song to play,” Keddy, who wrote the paperwork to create SFCR as a nonprofit, tells SF Weekly. “Just that first song … I’m thinking The Ramones’ ‘I Want The Airwaves’ or The Modern Lovers’ ‘Roadrunner,’ or maybe The Nerve Breakers’ ‘Hijack The Radio.’ We’re not hijacking it, we’re legit — but it’s a good anthem.”

Keddy’s program is one of very few where listeners can tune in to find such sounds, but it’s not the only radio survivor. KXSF broadcasts metal on The Creep Show, German music on Kraut Out Loud, long-time radio theater program Shoestring Radio Theater, and connects the dots between a variety of genres on Sleeves on Hearts and a dozen other programs. Listeners will have an opportunity to meet some of these DJs at a launch party on Saturday, July 7 at Bender’s Bar and Grill in the Mission.

That diversity in programming is essential to Fari Agharabi, a broadcaster who ran three programs on KUSF and who so loved the station that she remotely programmed her classical guitar and French music shows while living in Montreal for several years. Agharabi also penned a letter to the FCC noting the cultural impact of KUSF, which then broadcast in nine languages.

“With all the changes in San Francisco … it’s really important to not fall apart in terms of culture, in terms of unity, in terms of what makes the city what it is and how different it has always been from everywhere else,” Agharabi says from her home in the Richmond, adding that community radio programs highlight and respect the city’s diversity.

Agharabi will program her long-running Francofun, as well Don’t Fret and Ad Lib, on KXSF but the station is a family affair. Her sons, ages 6 and 11, have half-hour programs on SFCR that will also transition to the terrestrial station. Along with Above The Fog, a program run by 16-year-old DJ Sutro, SFCR emphasizes educating and training young broadcasters and plans to continue to do so as KXSF.

“I’ve been doing this for so long, you kinda get set in your ways and it can get a little boring, but then you get these younger kids who are excited,” Keddy says. “I always hear about how kids don’t listen to the radio. … But there are kids interested in the radio. I like that. It inspires me a little.”

There will still be plenty of work ahead for KXSF’s 50-something volunteers, all of whom have to meet volunteer requirements. Money is always an issue — SFCR raised tens of thousands of dollars over the past seven years, but running a terrestrial station is twice as expensive as an internet broadcast — and the station will continue to host benefits and seek underwriters. KXSF is also looking for volunteers and always accepts donations.

“The whole political climate and everything else is getting so one note and small voices are getting drowned out, so it seems like we need community radio,” Keddy says. “We keep the little voices still percolating and keep things a little more sane.”

KXSF 102.5 FM Launch PartyThursday, July 7, 5 p.m., Bender’s Bar and Grill, 806 South Van Ness Ave., free.

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