Is it the beginning of a fruitful and creative new era in Santa Cruz broadcasting? Or a quixotic rear-guard effort at clinging to an obsolete medium? (Or, most likely, some shade of gray in between?)
Whatever its fate, Santa Cruz’s new non-commercial radio station KSQD is now a reality, broadcasting at 90.7 FM after two-plus years of painstaking planning, fundraising and negotiation.
Last Friday, the station’s new board chair Rachel Anne Goodman presided over an opening ceremony at the station’s small studio in the Encinal Street building that houses the County Office of Education. To a crowd of radio true-believers, Goodman introduced the station’s new brain trust and welcomed Assemblyman Mark Stone (D-Scotts Valley), County Supervisor Ryan Coonerty, Mayor Martine Watkins and others, all to share their best wishes standing next to a 12-foot-long red squid named Squidmore.
K-Squid is a kind of cousin once-removed of KUSP, Santa Cruz’s long-standing left-of-the-dial radio station, which crashed spectacularly in 2015 after a lengthy (and ultimately losing) duel with rival KAZU for National Public Radio supremacy on the Monterey Bay. At K-Squid, “NPR” is something of a dirty word and it’s part of the station’s mission to remind listeners of the community spirit that animated KUSP in its early years, before NPR gentrification.
Accordingly, KSQD’s programming schedule is balanced between brand-names of progressive media, such as Democracy Now and Thom Hartmann, and local names that will tickle memories for long-term KUSP fans, such as Charlie Lange, Cindy Odom and Nikki Silva, who went on to public-radio fame as one half of the famed Kitchen Sisters.
The faith in the values of community radio—local control, diversity, relevance—is what K-Squid is banking on to be its secret sauce for success. But its challenge is to avoid becoming a KUSP tribute act. Squidmore and his friends are facing a media sea world wholly unlike what gave birth to KUSP.
The new station’s ability to co-exist with Spotify, YouTube, podcasts and all the other shiny and difficult-to-resist lures for local ears will determine if Squidmore is to become a big fish in a small pond, or just another bucket of chum.