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Airwaves: March 25, 2011

Remembering KSUL

Radio has always been a personal thing for me.

Ever since I was young, I loved it. It was my companion. My window to the world. I was fascinated by the way I could pick up distant and different AM stations at night, and the stations I tuned to regularly became more than a habit. The personalities, including the DJs and the news reporters, became my friends. I knew from a very early age that I wanted to work on the air.

So it was obvious that as a local boy I would go to college at Cal State University in Long Beach when I graduated from San Pedro High in 1981. For the previous few years I had been listening to a station I discovered by accident -- KSUL -- that at first I thought was a professionally-staffed, low-budget station. It turned out that it wasn’t professional at all, at least not in the traditional sense. It was students. Students at CSULB who, like me, wanted to be part of the magic we call radio.

KSUL was a ten-watt monaural FM station with a transmitter located on top of what was then the Sumitomo building in Long Beach (444 W. Ocean Blvd.). At that height the signal went straight across the bridge to my house, so the reception was amazingly clear, probably better than at the KSUL studios.

Students were the DJs, the news reporters, the talk hosts ... all operating under the guidance of the one paid advisor. It was an amazing thing, even in retrospect, as the sound was polished -- Every bit as professional as many commercial stations, entertaining and accessible to students and the general public alike. It was a gem, something that should have made Long Beach State proud.

Alas, proud they were not. In fact, after being accepted but before I graduated high school the University shut the station down. The date was March 20, 1981, thirty years ago this week.

Why shut down what was arguably one of the best college stations in Southern California at the time? Status. Students meant nothing to the the university. They could become big-time players in public radio by purchasing then KLON (now KKJZ, 88.1 FM) from Long Beach City College, dump the students and staff it professionally. Then Long Beach State could be like the big boys at other colleges that had professional stations. Stations like KUSC (91.5 FM) at USC KCRW (89.9 FM) at Santa Monica College, and KPCC (89.3 FM) at Pasadena City College.

I took it personally. At that moment I decided I would put in my time, but would not graduate from Long Beach State. Instead I would transfer to UCLA and work at KLA, their student-run on-campus and cable-FM station. But I still regret that I never had the opportunity to be part of KSUL, and I lament that few opportunities are available for local kids to get involved in such a great program.

Some did, though. KSUL alumni include some amazing graduates, many of whom went on to some great careers in radio. Such as Dave Randall (KRTH) Phil Hulett (KFWB), Steve Kindred (KFWB and KABC), Rick Lewis (KEZY, KMET, Power 106), John Palminteri (KFWB), Paul Sakrison (KLAA operations and engineering, KFWB and KNX engineering) Mike Stark (producer of the syndicated Tom Joyner morning show) and Kim Amidon (KOST and KTWV). An impressive list.

So on this 30th anniversary of the death of KSUL, let’s remember what was, what could have been, and what should be now. Let’s take the educational broadcast licenses away from the professionals and give them back to the students. That’s what the FCC intended, and it is what is right.

We Get Letters

“I love your column. I am wondering if you could find out something for me. KFI’s John and Ken constantly spew out anti-teacher rants as part of what I think is class-warfare against the working class, stating that teachers are overpaid and should have their pay and benefits cut. I am curious as to what someone like John or Ken make in a year, if they themselves are part of a union, what education level they obtained, and if they themselves went to public or private school.

“I know they work even fewer hours a day than most teachers do ... I think they are probably huge hypocrites but I don’t have the facts to prove it. I know you’re not an investigative reporter, but my friends and I were wordering.” -- Kim Lee, Torrance

Interesting questions; I’ll answer as best I can. I unfortunately don’t know about their schooling, but yes, KFI is a union station, so they are indeed dues-paying members of their broadcast union. My understanding is that the minimum salary a union station can pay in a major market like Los Angeles is about $65,000 per year. Salaries are generally considered private, but reliable sources who asked not to be named said John and Ken themselves make roughly $500,000 per year. Each.

Kind of takes the sting out of supposedly having to pay for their own (union sponsored and discounted) health care plans. Hypocrites? Can’t answer that. Misleading? I’ll let you decide.


Copyright © 2011 Richard Wagoner and Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

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