Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Listeners rally to save eclectic New Mexico rock station

It's an all-too common story. Beloved station gets sold off to another broadcaster, with the aim of flipping it to a not-so-beloved satellite-fed format.

This time, it's in Santa Fe, NM, and a well-regarded station looks to be kaput unless a local group consisting of station employees and management can change the station owner's mind and sell to them instead.

Recently, Clear Channel Communications, in their mass divestiture of small market properties, reached an agreement on February 26 to sell KBAC ("Radio Free New Mexico") and another station for $1.5 million to Educational Media Foundation, a California-based non-profit group that programs three Christian-oriented formats and sends them out via satellite to roughly 350 stations and low-powered translators across the country. And local listeners are working hard to save what they feel is a valuable local voice.

Ira Gordon, general manager of KBAC and smooth jazz sister KSFQ, said he and a group of employees are working to buy KBAC from the Educational Media Foundation after Clear Channel sells it. Gordon said his group, called Radio Free Santa Fe Inc., has an out-of-state financier who will help them purchase the station. He also said the group is poised to take ownership of the station quickly.

Listeners are also rallying to the cause. with a group called Friends of KBAC organizing a campaign that has resulted in hundreds of letters sent by local residents to representatives at Clear Channel and EMF seeking to keep the existing format on the air.

Since debuting its adult alternative format in 1989, KBAC has garnered accolades with its eclectic playlists that mix blues, jazz, folk, rock and world music, among others. In addition, they have long been a solid supporter of local music. Gordon says that his group would not change KBAC's present format, but is open to tweaking it.

KBAC is licensed to Las Vegas, NM, with its offices and studio in Santa Fe. The station's 100,000 watt signal is located southeast of Santa Fe, and employs translators to help with local reception. While the station often ranks in the top ten for overall listeners in the Santa Fe market, Clear Channel has always had a problem with selling advertising on it. Hence, the station has been losing money for the past two years. Gordon claims that Clear Channel, with their heavily regionalized corporate management structure, wasn't equipped to run KBAC as a heavily localized station, something that is crucial for a station with KBAC's approach. "Many of our past issues with revenue are tied to the fact that this community is pro local business, and we have been owned by a large corporation," he said. "We are optimistic and have been assured by our local community that we can count on their support in the future."

The sale deal is currently before the FCC. After details of the sale are hammered out, the public has 30 days to comment before it can be finalized. That 30-day comment period started this past Monday.

UPDATE 3/8: And it looks like Radio Free Santa Fe will live! According to Radio and Records, EMF has decided that they only need one of the two stations (KSFQ). Gordon's group was able to work out a deal to purchase KBAC from them. According to Gordon, "Once the deal to sell these two stations was presented to the FCC, we were then able to talk with the folks at EMF, and negotiate the purchase of KBAC. Once EMF has officially taken over ownership, we will then buy the station from them. We are very excited that we will remain the triple A voice for the community that we have been for over 10 years now."


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