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FCC Questions KUSF Operating Agreement

Wants details about interim financial and staffing arrangements

The FCC appears to be taking a good hard look at the operating agreement the University of San Francisco reached with Classical Public Radio Networks to run KUSF(FM) ahead of the station’s proposed — and contentious — sale.

The commission wants to know more before approving the assignment of KUSF. It has sent letters asking for answers to a list of questions within 30 days.

The sale is among several related format and station moves that also involve the University of Southern California and Entercom Communications and ended up with classical music being heard, at least for now, on KUSF’s 90.3 frequency.

That situation is being followed on several fronts because it involves (among other things) a university eclectic station format that changed without warning, traumatizing some listeners; a classical station that converted from commercial to public radio; and an agreement under which a noncom licensee is receiving monthly payments and surrendering its donations in exchange for airing another organization’s programming prior to an approved sale.

The organization “Friends of KUSF” and others have asked the commission to deny the sale of the station. The FCC noted those pleas but focuses in its letter on the terms of the Public Service Operating Agreement, under which Classical Public Radio Networks agreed to provide programming til the sale is OK’d.

It’s not evident whether the FCC’s questions indicate that challenges to the sale itself may gain traction, but they are sure to get the attention of everyone involved.

Under the agreement, the station agreed to make its facilities available to air programming from CPRN, while the transmitter and broadcast equipment are to remain under the university’s control, with a full-time employee overseeing operations; and the licensee retains the responsibility for compliance with the rules until the sale goes through. CPRN was to pay the university $5,000 per month for the first few months and more later, but it keeps listener contributions, underwriting revenue and other support.

The FCC wrote that this agreement presents “issues involving the parties’ compliance with commission rules and policies concerning the operation and control of the station.”

Peter Doyle, chief of the Audio Division of the Media Bureau, wants to know how many hours per week the station is airing CPRN content; whether any content was rejected; how the university is originating any programming; how the incoming content is evaluated by the licensee; and other questions.

He asked for financial details involving staff, rent and utility payments during the operating agreement’s term, and for copies of documents involving the sale, including paperwork to and from the station board.

Doyle asked the two sides to explain the legal basis for their agreement and specifically how airing of CPRN programming “furthers the licensee’s obligation to use the station for the advancement of an educational program” and how the monthly compensation involved complies with limits on consideration to NCE licensees.

He also asked them to explain how the agreement does not violate the prohibition on third-party fundraising, “given that the [agreement] permits CPRN to be the station’s sole programmer and to retain all donations, underwriting receipts and other station support during the [agreement ’s] term.” And he wants an itemized accounting for all donations and underwriting.

— Paul McLane

FCC Letter of Inquiry