Santa Cruz County radio station KSCO faces uncertain future

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LIVE OAK — Facing a $20,000 federal fine and unsuccessful efforts to sell its station and Live Oak property, the future of a local conservative AM talk radio station will remain in limbo heading into the new year.

KSCO-AM 1080’s employees in recent weeks were notified that the station, after a reliable 75 years of live local content, essentially was “closing up shop.” All paid staff and contractors were told they would be let go by Dec. 31, if the station had not sold to a new owner, KSCO General Manager Michael Olson confirmed Thursday.

Michael Olson speaks during the 1,000th episode of his show, “Food Chain Radio” at KSCO in Santa Cruz in 2015. (Kevin Johnson — Santa Cruz Sentinel file) 

“Then, we just received an email from MZ, on his cruise, suggesting that we will be broadcasting into the new year,” Olson said, referring to station owner Michael Zwerling, who left this week for a trip to Mexico. “I have no details on that and will not know anything, probably, until he gets back just after Christmas.”

Zwerling, reached by email Thursday, wrote that while his staff would be laid off at the end of the year, he planned to continue broadcasting operations, “minus the expensive local programs that I have personally funded (for many years) beyond what advertising revenues were received.” He estimated that personnel cost to produce the station’s core broadcasts came to about $11,000 to $12,000 monthly.

About six weeks ago, Zwerling began listing the sale of the 10,000-watt AM station with a 50,000-watt reach online. In the most recent Craigslist advertisement, KSCO, along with its lower-powered sister station KOMY 1340 AM, and the broadcasting business’s five licenses are offered for a $1.5 million sale price. The station’s buildings, broadcasting infrastructure and three parcels of land, including 1 acre of “relatively flat land” and approximately 12 acres of lagoon at 2300 Portola Dr., are separately offered for $6 million in the listing. Buyers interested in the broadcast license but not the infrastructure may be able to reach a deal to lease the building, parking lot, event patio, garage and towers for $15,000 a month, according to the advertisement.

Zwerling said his advertisements had received “lots of interest from all over the country but no offers as of yet.” While Zwerling’s experience with the station was to have its expenses exceed revenues, he said KSCO did not have to operate “in the red.” Instead, he said he would like to find others willing to transform the station into “a platform for those who share my vision to become individual, INDEPENDENT entrepreneurs to own their broadcast time on the station, expand to worldwide podcasting operations which could become very successful businesses unto themselves!”

This is not Zwerling’s first attempt to get out of the radio business. The real estate investor and station owner, who turned 71 in November, similarly announced sale plans in September 2007. Zwerling, the station’s third owner since its inception in 1947, took over the station in 1991.

Zwelling denied a recent action against him by the Federal Communications Commission’s audio division of the media bureau had played a part in his decision to sell. On Wednesday, the agency upheld an October opinion to levy a $20,000 forfeiture order against Zwerling Broadcasting System Ltd. The division chief’s report said Zwerling had been “willfully and repeatedly” operating “at a variance from its authorized parameters” during overnight broadcasts for more than 30 years.

“In the nineteen nineties I made the decision that was NOT in the public interest, convenience, and necessity for all points east of 41st Avenue to lose the KSCO signal at sundown — to protect a 50 KW signal from Dallas for God’s sake???!!!,” Zwelling wrote. “Not a single interference complaint in over 30 years and multiple surprise FCC inspections during that period but suddenly we are fined.”

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