Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Cal Lutheran buys local radio station


KCLU, a community radio station based at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks and heard primarily in cars throughout the city of Santa Barbara and Montecito at 102.3 FM, will soon have a much larger presence in south Santa Barbara County.
Officials at the station announced yesterday the acquisition of KIST-AM 1340, a 650-watt frequency that is broadcast from downtown Santa Barbara and will greatly increase KCLU’s reach on the South Coast.

As it stands, KCLU primarily features NPR programming and local news with an emphasis on professional journalism. But the 102.3 FM frequency is a mere four watts, which is so low it has difficulty cutting through walls. As a result, getting the station anywhere outside of a car is rare. The lack of frequency, however, hasn’t prevented Santa Barbara County residents from faithfully listening. KCLU Director of Operations and Programming Jim Rondeau said 20,000 South Coast residents tune in each day, a sign the $1.44 million the university paid for AM 1340 will be well worth it.
“We think that’s an indication people like what they’re hearing if they can get it,” Rondeau said. “People [now] will have no problem getting it.”
Rondeau said KCLU has long wanted to expand its reach in Santa Barbara County. Since 2004, the station has had a studio in Goleta and KEYT Channel 3 Senior Reporter John Palminteri regularly composes news pieces for the station, as does other local correspondents.
But with the flimsy 102.3 FM frequency, Rondeau said KCLU has been limited in its ability to consistently focus on the Santa Barbara area, since that channel is designated as a translator station of KCLU’s main 88.3 FM in Ventura County. That being the case, Rondeau said 102.3 FM must have the exact same programming as 88.3 FM.
With AM 1340, he said KCLU programmers will be able to expand local Santa Barbara content without interfering with the other two frequencies. He said plans are in the works to hire additional staff in the next year or so to better cover South Coast news. But one of the most immediate benefits of the new AM station will be KCLU’s ability to cover breaking stories, such as fires.
Since the Gap Fire broke out in July, many residents have spoke out about their inability to access accurate information during the blaze. At the end of July, as the fire was nearing full containment, founder and publisher Peter Sklar hosted a public forum to discuss the matter.
At that meeting, some residents said one of the main things missing during the fire was a reliable AM station that was regularly broadcasting emergency information. Such a station would come in especially handy, some said, in the event of power outages, which were frequent during the Gap Fire.
Rondeau cited the Gap Fire as an example of when regular broadcasting on AM 1340 could be interrupted for consistent coverage of a fire or any other big story.
As a result of the purchase, Rondeau said he feels, “We’re better poised to provide that kind of coverage.”
However, Rondeau, and many at the July emergency information meeting, said the consistency of information is only as good as its timeliness and accuracy. And for that, newspapers, radio stations, Web sites and television stations generally rely on information issues by governmental organizations.
Rondeau said stations like KCLU could provide wall-to-wall coverage of such events, but without accurate, up-to-date information, such coverage could do as much harm as good.
“You can go on the air and if the information isn’t correct or complete, you’re not helping anybody,” he said.
KCLU purchased AM 1340 from R&R Radio, LLC. Until KCLU takes over programming on the station at the end of this month, the station will continue under its current progressive talk format. Over the past two years, the AM 1340 has also been owned by Clear Channel and Santa Barbara based Rincon Broadcasting.
Rondeau said KCLU began negotiations to purchase the station in early 2007. He said it’s rare to find a station for sale, since large communication conglomerates regularly scoop up any available stations.
So when the opportunity arose to grab AM 1340, he said it was important to jump at it. The only problem, he said, was coming up with the cash, which was ultimately loaned to KCLU by the university.
University President Chris Kimball said the school is “thrilled” to help KCLU expand.
“The station’s programming is stronger than ever and now its signal will have the power to match,” Kimball said.
Rondeau said KCLU will reimburse the university over time through a $7.5 million capital campaign that is underway to fund a number of improvements at the station.
One way or another, KCLU, which has amassed more than 100 awards for excellence in journalism over the past seven years, is going to be firmly entrenched in Santa Barbara.
“We are looking forward to delivering a consistent, crystal-clear signal in the area,” said KCLU General Manger Mary Olson in a statement. “KCLU is already providing award winning local news and public affairs coverage of Santa Barbara County and this new signal will make it more accessible to our listeners.”

1 comment:

Pritch said...

Link on the my commenter name here for the link below.

Seems like this industry news item reported on 19th June beat out everyone now covering the KCLU news release this week.

Here is some good dope on the status and potential future of KIST:

"The station was sold by Clear Channel a year and a half ago to Rincon Broadcasting. KIST was then spun off to its current owner [R & R Radio]. Throughout all the ownership changes, the popular progressive talk format remained, most likely due to its strong ratings. Since debuting in early 2005, the 650 watt KIST has been a mainstay in the top ten among stations in the market.
As for whether a station will pick up KIST's successful soon-to-be abandoned progressive talk programming, there is KBKO (1490AM), which is owned by Rincon and is currently in format limbo, duplicating the format and signal of conservotalker KTMS (990AM)."