Santa Barbara Foundation CEO and President Ron Gallo (Feb. 18, 2014)

Paul Wellman

Santa Barbara Foundation CEO and President Ron Gallo (Feb. 18, 2014)

Santa Monica’s KCRW to Buy KDB

KDB Will Keep 93.7 FM Frequency and All-Classical Format

Tuesday, February 18, 2014
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Quelling months of speculation and rumors, the Santa Barbara Foundation announced that it’s signed a letter of intent to sell KDB FM — one of the oldest all-classical radio stations in the nation and certainly the South Coast — to Santa Monica public radio station KCRW for a little over a million dollars. The deal, however, is more complicated and interesting than that, offering at first blush something old and something new.

The agreement calls for KDB to retain its current location on the FM dial — 93.7 — and its same all-classical format. But it will be taken over by radio station KUSC, which now occupies the 88.7 frequency locally and also provides an all-classical format. Santa Barbara, it turns out, was the only city left in the country within broadcast reach of two all-classical stations. With KUSC’s move, that opens up space on the left end of the dial for KCRW, whose managers promise to deliver a menu of programs more appealing to younger listeners than most public radio stations.

Although KCRW has long broadcast in Santa Barbara, station manager Jennifer Ferro acknowledged the signal was “anemic.” For the first time, the station will boast a robust signal with which to broadcast into Santa Barbara households. KCRW will provide the usual public radio mainstays such as “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered,” but old war horses like “Prairie Home Companion” will be put out to pasture. Instead, local listeners will tap into one of the station’s signature programs, “Morning Becomes Eclectic.” Likewise, it will offer Warren Olney’s widely respected public affairs talk show “Which Way L.A?” and Madeleine Brand’s new show, “Press Play,” not to mention shows on books and food. Eventually, Ferro added, “We’d like to create programming exclusive to this area.”

To that end, she said the station plans to partner with The Santa Barbara Independent as well as Mission & State to provide Santa Barbara-centric news and public affairs programming. It will operate out of offices owned by Antioch University and work with Antioch students as volunteers and interns. Ferro added that the station also intends to jump feet first into the Santa Barbara arts and culture scene, promoting events, creating partnerships, and hosting forums. She expressed optimism the station could sponsor engaging, even entertaining, community discussions on such weighty issues as gangs, the drought, and the environment “without sounding like you’ve just gone to a city council meeting.”

Instigating this radio-waved do-si-do has been longstanding community concern about the economic viability of KDB. For years, the station was privately owned and operated, but about 10 years ago, local philanthropists felt compelled to intervene lest it go down the tubes. Eventually, its care and upkeep was laid at the doorstep of the Santa Barbara Foundation. But even when reincarnated as a quasi public-private-pseudo nonprofit station, KDB only managed to limp along, drawing on a loyal but aging listener base. The S.B. Foundation wound up pumping $450,000 into the station over four years, said foundation executive Ron Gallo, and that doesn’t count the $100,000 in administrative support. This fall, Gallo announced the foundation was hoping to sell the station.

While KCRW’s programming offers Santa Barbara the flash of genuinely solid and innovative programming, the $64,000 question remains whether the South Coast radio market is big enough to sustain not one but three public radio stations. Currently, Santa Barbara is served by KCBX — located to the north in San Luis Obispo — and KCLU, which is located in Thousand Oaks. Of the two, KCLU has made a consistent effort to cover regional news with a Santa Barbara slant. KCLU station manager Jim Rondeau expressed confidence that all three stations could “peacefully co-exist,” but also acknowledged it was possible that fundraising could become an issue. “If a local operation like KCLU loses a significant amount of listener financial support to a Los Angeles-based station like KCRW, it will drastically impact its ability to serve the community,” he said. “That’s an ugly reality.”

KCRW’s Ferro expressed optimism that would not be the case. The L.A. area, she said, has many public radio stations. “We found there is robust support for good quality programming that’s relevant to people’s lives. You can bring new people into the tent.” Ferro said KCRW enjoys much stronger support from 30- to 44-year-old listeners than do most public radio stations, which she said typically draw strongest among the 50-plus crowd.

While the letter of intent has been signed, the deal must first be approved by the Federal Communications Commission. Ferro estimated that process should take no more than 60 days. If all goes according to schedule, the new stations could be up and operating by May. In the meantime, Ron Gallo expressed great satisfaction — and no small relief — that the deal appears done. “May I be so bold, so arrogant, to say it’s a win-win-win situation,” he said.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Awesome!!! KCRW is my favorite radio station. Great music and excellent public service shows. Warren Olney is one of the best interviewers in radio and This American Life is always good for laughs + introspection.

Listeners in their cars often have to switch between 106.9FM and 89.1FM depending on where they are in town, so having a single strong channel will be nice.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
February 18, 2014 at 11:37 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Another cool thing about KCRW ... if you hear a song you like, you can access playlists online in real-time and in archives:

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
February 18, 2014 at 11:43 p.m. (Suggest removal)

A bounty of quality radio.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
February 19, 2014 at 12:10 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Excellent news! KCRW is awesome. And we get a clearer signal. KDB, KCSB, & KCLU are the ONLY stations worth listening to in the SB market.

Classic rock dinosaur still plays the same 50 lame songs over and over while expecting its listeners to suffer the slings and arrows of sleep-inducing disembodied voices with nothing to say. Ditto the "alternative" dork-rock station whose call letters I also will not post.

KCRW is on the preset!
Welcome to eager ears!

Draxor (anonymous profile)
February 19, 2014 at 11:45 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I'm happy that (so far) the public & classical formats will enjoy a better signal, but sorry to see that the "desirable demographic" is being catered to and programming that the rest of us like is already being eliminated to make way for the younger crowd.

I'm glad I have Sirius in the car, and can listen to NPR there and hear the programs I like and not be restricted to what is targeted to the "desirable youth market". I'm glad my Dad didn't live to see this; he really loved Prairie Home Companion as well as the other programming, and faithfully sent in his donations every year to help keep it going.

The $$ we used to donate to local stations will now be directed to getting Sirius in the house as well as the car so we can listen inside as well. I hope that the younger market preferred by the station operators ponies up with the donations us "old war horses" spent each year to make up the shortfall created by loss of dollars like mine, and keeps the format going, at least. Sure would be a bummer if the area ended up with more lame Top 40-type crap to add to an already saturated market targeted to the "youth demographic".

Holly (anonymous profile)
February 19, 2014 at 3:39 p.m. (Suggest removal)

KCBX, founded in 1975, is launching local news coverage in just a matter of days. As the station's first-ever news director, I'm looking forward to providing quality reports within Santa Barbara County and am happy to share the area's airwaves with such well-respected members of our public radio family. It's our hope listeners and supporters will sample a bit from each station—KCBX, KCLU, and KRCW—as they go about their daily lives, and that they will find themselves greatly enriched for doing so. Here's to competition of the best kind!

Randol_White (anonymous profile)
February 19, 2014 at 6 p.m. (Suggest removal)

@Holly ... KCLU broadcasts PHC. You can also listen to their podcasts on their website and watch episode excerpts on YouTube:

You probably haven't listened to KCRW if you're inferring they're "Top 40". They are anything but.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
February 19, 2014 at 7:52 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Not much comment on KUSC on this string. KUSC is the best classical station in California. The announcers are informative and entertaining. The playlists are eclectic. The best part is: No advertisements! I like a lot of different kinds of music and programing, but radio advertisements turn me off and make me turn the station, back to KUSC. It was great of them to willing to be part of this deal.

Eckermann (anonymous profile)
February 19, 2014 at 8:34 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I hope KDB doesn't become an extension of KUSC. I prefer the classical playlist that KDB plays rather than the "greatest classical hits" from KUSC.

It's nice to have lots of public radio stations to choose from. 89.5, 98.7, 102.3, and 106.9. I'm not sure the news coming from the interns at Antioch will be impartial though. Would love to see local news reported without the political bias we get from local papers both left and right. It would be nice to see issues come before political parties and political agendas.

Georgy (anonymous profile)
February 19, 2014 at 9:34 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Well played by Public Radio Capital, the financiers behind this. They seem to have learned their lesson from the dissent they caused in Pittsburgh when they financed the sale of Duquesne's jazz station, causing the loss of jazz for the sake of NPR... or in San Francisco where they enabled the elimination of a popular eclectic music station for the sake of classical music (from KUSC, no less). I hope KCRW will find a way to use the talented KDB manager, Tim Owens, who is legendary in public radio circles. Meanwhile, it's not too late for KCLU and KCBX to join forces to create a stronger local news presence in Santa Barbara -- something the city certainly deserves and isn't going to get immediately in the KCRW plan. (Hint: work with non-profit Mission & State -- now!) While this is a sort of win-win... the losers are KPCC in LA who see themselves as the regional NPR news powerhouse (wondering if they made a play on KDB?)... and the pathetic UCSB station, KCSB, which doesn't seem to give a damn if anyone listens or not.

mvm (anonymous profile)
February 21, 2014 at 12:08 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Oh yeah -- the other loser : the sad 1950s style journalism on AM radio in Santa Barbara, including the News-Press station which doesn't deserve the BBC distribution arrangement. Bring that to FM!

mvm (anonymous profile)
February 21, 2014 at 12:13 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Speaking of jazz ... I really like KCRW's morning, evening, and weekend on-air music. DJ's Liza Richardson, Raul Campos, Garth Trinidad, Anne Litt, et. al. got it going on! "Hand-picked music" as they say.

But are their any on-air jazz stations we can listen to in this area?

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
February 21, 2014 at 1:44 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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