The first low-powered FM station in the Los Angeles area is now on the air. KBUU (97.5 FM) launched full time in early March and can be heard along the coast near Malibu, broadcasting with a 50-watt transmitter from a hilltop overlooking Paradise Cove from studios located in a spare bedroom of station founder Hans Laetz.
Venture far from its signal area and you’ll pick up a 72,000-watt Spanish station out of Riverside or a 50,000 religious station in Santa Barbara. But along Pacific Coast Highway from Tracas to Escondido Beach and a few other spots, 97.5 KBU, as it is called, comes in loud and clear.
As well, you can stream it on your computer at www.kbu.fm; soon to be available on the smartphone TuneIn app.
Right now its not much to speak of. Continuous music when I tune in, with a few announcements; Laetz says that hosted shows -- prerecorded at first, unfortunately -- will be the bulk of the broadcast day with NPR shows “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition” set to begin later this month.
“Malibu is one of the few areas of Los Angeles County that does not receive NPR affiliates cleanly, due to the mountains blocking the signals of NPR affiliates KCRW (89.9 FM), KPCC (89.3 FM), and KCLU (88.3 FM),” explained Laetz. “I believe we are the first low powered FM station in the nation to win NPR licensing rights,” he said.
About 8000 people live in the station’s broadcast area, which includes Trancas, Zuma Beach, Point Dume and the Paradise Cove area. That makes KBU truly local.
The Rock of Torrance
Low Powered FM stations are actually nothing new. In the old days when the FCC actually did something useful rather than to let three media companies control over 75 percent of the nation’s radio stations, licenses were issued to local community organizations -- mostly colleges and universities -- in the educational part of the band.
One such station was KNHS, licensed to the Torrance Unified School District in 1967 and that broadcast from the campus of North High School utilizing at first a one-watt transmitter and later a full 10-watts on 89.7 FM. That 10-watts covered an area extending from approximately Palos Verdes Drive North at the border of San Pedro all the way up into Redondo Beach.
Unlike educational licenses today, in which professionals staff the stations and little education is involved, KNHS was truly student-run and driven. They played the music. They covered local athletics. They kept the logs. They did the transmitter readings. All on a shoestring budget.
Unfortunately, short-sighted thinking (or downright stupidity) on the part of the Torrance school district allowed the license to expire during an era in which such licenses were not allowed to be returned after expiration. Some reports have it expiring in December of 1983, just one year after an unnamed television news segment brought some great publicity about the amazing radio program at North High (see http://tinyurl.com/KNHSRadio). Other reports have it on the air possibly as a pirate until as late as 1991 ... records are a bit hard to find.
But KNHS -- and others such as also defunct KSUL at Cal State Long Beach -- are exactly what educational licenses were designed to provide ... student experience in radio. That the FCC stopped issuing the licenses (or allowing renewal when accidentally expired) showed the new era of the FCC in which money is everything and public airwaves are not public at all. Indeed, there are no students allowed at KUSC (91.5 FM), KJAZ (88.1 FM), KCRW, KPCC, KCLU, KCSN (88.5 FM). Locally, that leaves KXLU (88.9 FM) as the only “educational” station broadcasting under the spirit and intent of their educational license.
In my opinion, that is criminal and the “professional” broadcasters on the educational band should lose their licenses. Unfortunately the impotent and corrupt FCC has proven it will do nothing.
Meanwhile, stations such as KNHS and KSUL remain but memories.