SANTA CRUZ—For years, KUSP was Santa Cruz’s non-university-affliated public radio station, offering local news and extensive music and talk programming, and acting as a regional affiliate for National Public Radio.
The station went dark in 2016, but it wasn’t long before a group of citizens with a passion for public radio banded together to fill the gap. Volunteers spent two years raising over $300,000 to purchase a license and equipment to start KSQD 90.7 FM.
The station debuted on February 15, 2019, and continues to grow as it reaches its third anniversary.
“We hit the ground running,” said Program Director Howard Feldstein. “Before we went on air, we’d already decided on programming. At that point, it was a matter of bringing it all together. Since then, it’s been a matter of keeping everyone happy—and keeping something good on the air 24/7.”
Now affectionately known as “The Squid,” KSQD is operated by two part-time staff, including Feldstein, and over 100 volunteers who curate a constant stream of music and original talk shows, along with national and regional programs. 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 by 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, journals, and more from the show were acquired by the Library of Congress, and will soon be enshrined at 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 reporting information during natural disasters and the ongoing pandemic.
“I’m proud of our moments during the many crises this region has been through,” said Rachel Goodman, one of the station’s main founders and the chair of its Board of Directors. “We were on the air immediately during the CZU fires, giving out updates. We were there during Covid—we’re still here during Covid. It’s been both a challenge and an opportunity. I think our crisis program is really the kind of thing we were made for.”
Radio’s ability to communicate in real-time is one of the medium’s biggest strengths, Goodman says.
“Even if your power is out, you can get in your car and listen,” she said. “Also, it’s a very intimate medium. When you have someone talking to you, they feel like a friend—and they are! We have people working here who have listeners who have stuck with them through five stations. There’s an emotional connection. A lot of people feel very attached.”
Feldstein says it feels “gratifying” that the station has found such a loyal audience.
“We don’t have billions of listeners—we’re not KQED or even KSCO. But those who do listen really, really appreciate us,” he said. “When we started three years ago, there was no guarantee that people would listen. And being financially viable requires community support. Would people voluntarily support us, find value in what we do? The answer has been, ‘Yes!’ We had a niche to fill, and I think we’ve filled it really well.”
KSQD recently added three new members to its nonprofit board of directors: former Santa Cruz city councilmember and university lecturer Tim Fitzmaurice, educator and former mayor Jane Weed Pomerantz and former KLRB program director and Monterey County Film Commission board member David Bean.
Goodman calls the board “very hands on.”
“A lot of boards are more like figureheads,” she said. “But most of us volunteer at roles that would normally be staff positions. The hours of volunteer time being given to the community, they are giving lots of time, and most importantly, passion and care. I think people feel that. It’s all a labor of love.”
The station’s broadcast license is held by Natural Bridges Media, an organization formed in December 2017. For its entire run the station’s sole means of financial support has been donations from listeners, educational grants and underwriting. 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,” Goodman said. “We had a few naysayers, but a lot of people were like, ‘Absolutely, I totally understand why you want to do this, here’s some money.’ I want to thank the donors who made this possible.”
Feldstein calls the station’s volunteers “not only motivated, but extremely talented, too.”
“Somebody who does something well, it almost doesn’t matter what you’re doing—it will speak to something universal,” he said. “You might not like reggae music, but if you heard Terry Gross interviewing Bob Marley 30 years ago, you’d stay tuned. Because she’s a good interviewer, and he’s a good subject. That’s our highest mission: To uplift, inspire and educate as well as entertain. It’s magic when all those things come together.”
Due to Covid, KSQD will celebrate its anniversary on air, with special programs between Feb. 11-20. Daily 3pm broadcasts will feature shout-outs, including from 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 about where we are,” Goodman said. “We’re looking forward to expanding even further.”