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Classical radio station KUSC extends its signal*

May 27, 2009 |  1:15 pm

Laphilviolins

If at first you don't succeed....

Just as it said it was planning to do last October, KUSC-FM (91.5) has extended the reach of its classical music programming -- which includes the Los Angeles Philharmonic and L.A. Opera -- to the central California coast. But not on the station it first intended.

The L.A.-based public radio station, which already simulcasts on outlets in Palm Springs, Thousand Oaks and Santa Barbara, has purchased KESC-FM (99.7) in Morro Bay and can now be heard throughout the area surrounding San Luis Obispo.

KUSC had said last October that it was going to accomplish that task by buying a station in Santa Maria. But legal complications developed and KUSC pulled out, station president Brenda Barnes said today. KUSC wound up spending $400,000 more for KESC -- $1.2 million -- but she said its signal reaches a slightly larger area.

The decision to expand was motivated by several factors, Barnes said: There was no other full-time classical station in the area, a lot of former L.A.-area residents who are familiar with KUSC have moved to the central coast to retire, and new listeners means potential new financial donors. 

"We believe the investment will pay for itself over time," she said.

 Barnes said KUSC has no further plans to expand geographically. Moving further south isn't practical because San Diego already has a classical station and the radio market there is much more expensive, she noted.

What the station will continue exploring, however, is how to make its programming available via the ever-evolving new media, such as podcasts and online.

Mt. Wilson FM Broadcasters Inc., which owns country station KKGO-FM (105.1) and talk station KGIL-AM (1260), said this week that it was reviving classical station KMZT (K-Mozart) as a full-time digital station for people with HD receivers (at 105.1 HD2) beginning Sunday. The classical programming also will be heard on KGIL from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays.

Barnes said she wasn't concerned about that competition because HD receivers still aren't in wide use and she is skeptical that they ever will be, given the other options consumers have to pick up additional radio stations via satellite, the Internet or cable TV connections. KUSC streams an HD signal at 91.5.

[UPDATE] In a letter to the L.A. Times Friday, Saul Levine, president of Mt. Wilson FM Broadcasters, took issue with Barnes' comments about HD, saying "it is extremely disappointing and disconcerting to encounter such a negative response from a public institution whose sole purpose is to support the availability and existence of classical music."

"While Ms. Barnes remains 'skeptical' about HD Radio, its relevance has now been endorsed by companies such as Microsoft and BMW through inclusion of the technology in their products, and over a million HD Radios have already been sold in the U.S.," Levine wrote. "This is deja vu. In 1959, when I placed KKGO 105.1 on the air, the naysayers said FM would never amount to anything and that there were few receivers around. I proved them wrong."

-- Lee Margulies

Photo of the L.A. Phil: Barbara Davidson/Los Angeles Times

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