By Jesse Hamlin
Starting this week, the voices of some notable Bay Area music programmers will be missing or heard less often on jazz radio KCSM (91.1 FM) due to budget cuts.
Veteran San Francisco music producer and radio host Harry Duncan will no longer do his Sunday evening KCSM show, “In the Soul Kitchen,” a gumbo of soul, funk, jazz, roots reggae and other music genres that aired on KUSF for 28 years and has been on KCSM since 2014. Jim Bennett’s Thursday night “In the Moment,” which features music recorded live in Bay Area clubs, has been dropped, too, as has Dave Ramirez’s Monday night show.
Ron Pelletier, one of many KCSM announcers who honed their craft at Alameda’s famed KJAZ before its demise in 1994, lost his two late-night slots, when he could stretch out musically, but will be heard instead on the mellow-toned “Jazz Oasis” on Saturday evening. Other DJs like Greg Bridges have also lost shifts, which will be taken up by prerecorded programming and, at some point, by students. Several of these changes go into effect Wednesday.
“I am disappointed to not be able to do my show live and am concerned about the future of the station,” Duncan said. “The diverse programming delivered by live DJs is the heart and soul of the KCSM sound, and listeners knew they could count on that.”
Come July 1, other familiar voices could be gone as well as the College of San Mateo station resolves a long-ignored union and education-code issue regarding the fate of “temporary” employees — some of whom have worked at KCSM for years — that could further diminish one of the last 24-hour jazz stations in America.
The changes, according to people who attended a recent staff meeting, were made in response to the college’s concern about a budget shortfall at KCSM, a largely self-sustaining operation whose triannual public fundraising drives bring in about $800,000. The station also receives several hundred thousand dollars a year of in-kind support from the college district, including big sums for electricity.
The station reportedly ran a $180,000 deficit last year and is looking at a slightly smaller one for the fiscal year ending June 30. The previous year’s deficit was reportedly covered by money from a district-controlled KCSM rainy-day fund, said to hold more than $1 million, built over the years with listener contributions that exceeded fund-drive goals.
“Like all public broadcast stations that continue to struggle with the same issues, we want to decrease expenditures and increase revenue, and meet the needs of the listening audience,” said Bailey, who declined to comment on the specifics of the budget, the staff cuts or other pending personnel issues.
Fans of the jazz radio station, which has about 200,000 listeners throughout the Bay Area and is heard globally online, are already reacting to some of the changes that have been announced.
“Dear Mr. Duncan — how can KCSM cancel the best show on radio in America?” emailed John Leo of Chicago, after Duncan told listeners Sunday that it was his last show. “I am an annual donor who lives in Chicago, but would like to contact the program director to tell him/her that I will no longer be a donor if they eliminate your show. ... My weekly ritual includes every Sunday night, starting at 10, my time listening and learning from the knowledge of a master.”
With the pending sale of the college’s KCSM-TV license — the district stands to make about $10 million from the Federal Communications Commission’s recent auction of broadcast spectrum space to wireless companies — some worry the radio station might eventually be sold. KCSM radio is only one of three round-the-clock jazz stations left in the country; the others are Los Angeles’ KKJZ and WBGO out of Newark, N.J.
While Bailey said “there are no plans to sell the (radio) station,” he declined to comment on KCSM-TV’s involvement in the FCC spectrum auction. Those results won’t be made public until the federal agency finishes the final phase of the process in April. (Sonoma County public television station KRCB announced two weeks ago that it will receive a whopping $72 million from the auction by agreeing to move its signal from an ultrahigh-frequency band to a less powerful VHF transmission.)
“I’m not sure they value the music as the cultural treasure that it is,” said Pelletier, who doesn’t plan to participate in KCSM’s May fundraising drive.
“It’s hypocritical” to ask loyal listeners to give money to keep the station vital when the programming is being chipped away, he explained, and it’s a sentiment shared by many of his colleagues.
“The listeners who have reached into their pocketbooks time and again to keep the station on the air deserve to know what’s going on.”
Copyright 2016 Sonoma Valley Jazz Society All rights reserved. SVJS, PO Box 1533, Sonoma, CA 95476 ph 707-373-0700