Just a few blocks from San Francisco City Hall, news and public affairs station KSFP(LP) launched out of a “glorified storage closet” that once housed thousands of newspapers.
The San Francisco Public Press, a 10-year-old non-profit, membership-based print and web newspaper focused on in-depth local news, is an unusual entrant into the community radio space, although it owes its very existence to a public radio-style model.
“We always considered ourselves a newspaper inspired by public broadcasting, and now we have a radio station inspired by a newspaper inspired by public radio, so we’ve kind of come full circle in a way,” said San Francisco Public Press Executive Director Michael Stoll.
Hitting the airwaves in San Francisco last summer, KSFP joined time-share partner San Francisco Community Radio KXSF(LP) on 102.5 MHz. One of the last low-power FM radio stations to launch from the 2013 application window, KSFP broadcasts daily from 4 to 10 a.m., and from 4 to 10 p.m. via an antenna on Sutro Tower.
For about a year, San Francisco Community Radio’s KXSF was the sole station on 102.5 FM, transmitting during the other 12 hours.
Funding for the effort came from Public Press members as well as institutions like the James Irvine Foundation, the California Endowment and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.
While KXSF’s crew of volunteers was full of folks with radio experience, San Francisco Public Press staffers were less seasoned and sought help from the broader radio community, including KXSF, to get up and running.
As the vision for the station crystallized, two experienced radio producers were brought on board to oversee the station and its programming.
At an evening event last August, community media supporters gathered at Impact Hub in San Francisco’s Mission District to celebrate the debut of both KSFP(LP) and its flagship show “Civic.” It had been a long road to the airwaves for San Francisco Public Press; and radio veterans in the room shared that they were happy about the rare launch of a new radio station in San Francisco.
KSFP Operations Manager and reporter Laura Wenus and KSFP Program Director Mel Baker are the core team managing KSFP, with Stoll serving as general manager. Wenus and Baker also are host and producer, respectively, of “Civic.”
Rather than launching with a full slate of original content, they opted to start slowly, beginning with the radio show and podcast “Civic,” which developed out of the journalism being done in the Public Press newsroom.
Stoll acknowledges that while there’s been a lot of buzz in journalism circles about podcasting, KSFP wants to ensure that it’s taking full advantage of the opportunity that it’s been given with LPFM.
“Everybody’s been talking about this sort of pivot to audio in the nonprofit local journalism space really for the last two to three years. … People have been starting to take it really seriously, but most of the organizations have tepidly dipped their toes into podcasting … they haven’t put a lot of energy into the volume of content or staffing or the distribution. It’s often considered kind of an add-on,” Stoll said.
Understanding that 12 hours of daily airtime on KSFP is an “enormous resource,” Stoll and team have tried to be thoughtful and methodical about bringing their current work to the airwaves.
Although they are entering a crowded radio dial in San Francisco that includes a variety of non-commercial powerhouses, KSFP’s hyperlocal news focus sets them apart.
“We have a reputation for truthful, careful journalism in print, and we’re translating that into other media in a way that is aimed at keeping the work that we’re doing in print and print style journalism on the web relevant to new audiences.”
With “Civic,” airing at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays), San Francisco Public Press hopes to not only have something “of interest to San Franciscans,” but that also “encourages and enables civic participation,” according to Wenus.
“Civic” features interviews and stories focused on local San Francisco issues and news. To pique interest in the show, the launch party featured a live on-stage interview that would form the basis for a future episode. Wenus’ entertaining conversation with the team behind public transportation-themed storytelling blog/podcast “Muni Diaries,” had the audience engaged, with many sharing their own amusing and harrowing public transit stories during the Q&A that followed.
Other recent shows have included stories about climate change, homelessness, mental health and San Francisco elections. With an understanding that audio on demand is increasingly important, “Civic” is running both terrestrially over 102.5 and in podcast form, with additional bonus episodes available online.
For now, the station is an FM-only venture, with a live stream on its wish list. Wenus shares that one of the exciting aspects of the project is the simultaneous launching of a radio station, radio show and podcast. She said it’s been interesting “trying to straddle those worlds.”
From its small studio, Wenus and Baker record “Civic” and oversee the daily tasks of the radio station, slowly building out the schedule. It airs syndicated news and public affairs shows such as “Radio Survivor” and KQED shows like “The California Report Magazine,” “Political Breakdown,” “Making Contact,” “Bioneers,” “Reveal” and “Philosophy Talk” — and rounds out the remaining hours with PRX Remix, a stream of “stories, podcasts and documentaries” from non-profit media company PRX’s 24-7 stream.
They’re also in talks with several independent audio producers for original programming that would have its broadcast home on KSFP. The hope is that local producers will take to the KSFP airwaves, bringing additional programs to the schedule in months to come.
The team is optimistic about its place in the media landscape.
“There is just so much enthusiasm for the idea of … expanding the airwaves,” Stoll said, “and bringing new voices to the air and new choices.”
Radio will allow them to reach new audiences. Baker speculates that, “Audio is a living breathing medium for communicating. People have more ear time than eye time. You can listen to more stories than you can ever read or watch, so that’s the exciting power of this medium.”
Jennifer Waits writes frequently about community, college and low-power radio. She is a co-founder of Radio Survivor, which produces a free syndicated weekly show that airs on KSFP.