KSQD-FM radio celebrates three years on the air
For years, KUSP was the public radio station unaffiliated with the University of Santa Cruz, providing local news and extensive music and talk programming, and acting as the regional affiliate for National Public Radio.
The station died in 2016, but it wasn’t long before a group of citizens passionate about public radio banded together to fill the void. Volunteers spent two years raising over $300,000 to purchase a license and equipment to launch KSQD 90.7 FM.
The station debuted on February 15, 2019, and continues to grow as it reaches its third anniversary.
“We got off to a flying start,” says program director Howard Feldstein. “Before going on the air, we had already decided on the programming. At that time, it was all about putting it all together. Since then, it’s been about keeping everyone happy and keeping something good on the air 24/7.”
Now affectionately known as “The Squid,” KSQD is run by two part-time employees, including Feldstein, and more than 100 volunteers who curate a steady stream of original music and talk shows, as well as national and regional. Music includes jazz, folk, bluegrass, world, classical, gospel, blues and more. Talk shows include “Ask Dr. Dawn”, “Be Bold America”, “In The Garden”, “The Dream Journal”, “Cruz News and Views”, and “The Computer Man Show”.
The station also hosts “The Kitchen Sisters,” a show from award-winning producers Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva. The show chronicles the lives, rituals, triumphs, and tribulations of people from all walks of life in America. Recently, 7,000 hours of audio, photos, logs and more from the show were acquired by the Library of Congress and will soon be dedicated to the Smithsonian.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” Feldstein said. “They have a national, even international reputation. And they’re based right here in Santa Cruz.
KSQD has also been instrumental in providing information during natural disasters and the ongoing pandemic.
“I’m proud of our times during the many crises this region has gone through,” said Rachel Goodman, one of the station’s main founders and chair of its board of directors. “We were on the air immediately during the CZU fires, giving updates. We were there during Covid – we are still here during Covid. It was both a challenge and an opportunity. I think our crisis program is really the kind of thing we’re made for.
Radio’s ability to communicate in real time is one of the medium’s greatest strengths, Goodman says.
“Even if your electricity is out, you can get in your car and listen,” she says. “Plus, it’s a very intimate medium. When you have someone talking to you, they feel like a friend, and they are! We have people who work here who have listeners who have stayed with them through five stations. There is an emotional connection. Many people feel very attached.
Feldstein says it’s “gratifying” that the station has found such a loyal following.
“We don’t have billions of listeners, we’re not KQED or even KSCO. But those who really listen to us really appreciate us,” he says. “When we started three years ago, there was no guarantee people would listen. And being financially viable requires community support. Would people support us voluntarily, would they find value in what we do? The answer was, ‘Yes!’ We had a niche to fill, and I think we filled it very well.
KSQD recently added three new members to its nonprofit board: former Santa Cruz City Council member and university lecturer Tim Fitzmaurice, educator and former mayor Jane Weed Pomerantz, and former program director KLRB and Monterey County Film Commission Board Member David Bean.
Goodman calls the board “very active.”
“A lot of boards are more like figureheads,” she says. “But most of us are volunteering in roles that would normally be staff positions. Since the volunteer hours are given to the community, they give a lot of time and, above all, passion and attention. I think people feel that. Everything is a labor of love.
The station’s broadcast license is held by Natural Bridges Media, an organization established in December 2017. Throughout its lifetime, the station’s sole means of financial support has been through listener donations, educational grants, and subscription. It currently operates with an annual budget of $110,000.
“I can’t tell you how grateful we are to the people who believed in this vision,” says Goodman. “We had a few naysayers, but a lot of people were like, ‘Absolutely, I completely understand why you want to do this, here’s the money.’ I would like to thank the donors who made this possible.”
Feldstein describes the station’s volunteers as “not only motivated, but also extremely talented.”
“Someone who does something good, no matter what you do, it will speak to something universal,” he says. You may not like reggae music, but if you had heard Terry Gross interviewing Bob Marley 30 years ago, you would stay tuned. Because she’s a good interviewer and she’s a good subject. It is our highest mission: to elevate, inspire and educate while entertaining. It’s magic when all these things come together.
Due to Covid, KSQD will celebrate its anniversary on the air, with special programs from February 11 to 20. The daily 3 p.m. shows will feature shoutouts including local musicians Dale Ockerman and Anthony Arya, and national artists like Janis Ian and Karl Denson.
“We’ve come a long way in just three years, and we’re really happy with where we are,” says Goodman. “We look forward to expanding even further.”
For more information and to listen online, visit ksqd.org. The station invites listeners to submit recorded birthday wishes and comments. Email them directly to [email protected]