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KDB Radio Station Will Keep Classical Format in Santa Barbara Foundation’s Sale to NPR Affiliate

Santa Barbara will retain its No. 1 classical music radio station and, in turn, will gain a National Public Radio affiliate channel through the planned sale of KDB 93.7 FM.

The Santa Barbara Foundation, which purchased the 87-year-old station through a donation in 2003, announced the transaction Tuesday as a sort of switcheroo deal involving KDB and two other stations that operate local channels.

The foundation will sell the city’s oldest radio station to KCRW, a Santa Monica-based NPR affiliate that had been airing on a weaker FM frequency at 106.9.

KCRW will give the historic KDB station to Los Angeles-based KUSC radio, which has broadcast classical music offerings at 88.7 FM for the past 20 years in Santa Barbara.

KUSC’s former frequency will go to KCRW, which plans to start a community-focused and arts-infused lineup of programming from scratch that would include partnerships with local media outlets and other organizations.

All parties hope the sale, which is pending approval from the Federal Communications Commission, will be cleared to make the swap by the first week in May.

Santa Barbara Foundation CEO Ron Gallo told Noozhawk on Tuesday that the sale follows the foundation’s intentions all along — to sell the financially struggling station while maintaining its classical format and commitment to local arts.

The deal was sweetened by the fact that KCRW would add even more news programming and already handily draws listeners from the 25 to 54 age range.

“It really is one of those rare times when what could have been an uncomfortable situation turned into a win-win-win,” Gallo said. “This was a delightful surprise.”

The foundation had been working since last September to relinquish ownership of KDB. The nonprofit suffered years of financial hardship and losses supporting the station, which wasn’t considered in line with the foundation’s overall task of providing grants to other nonprofits.

The foundation has subsidized KDB close to $350,000 over the past four years, according to Gallo, who did not disclose the sale price.

Gallo said he didn’t know whether current KDB employees, including General Manager Tim Owens, would keep their jobs, but noted that the new owners would be seeking local talent.

KCRW will have studio space inside Antioch University, where the station will offer students the chance to volunteer or intern in broadcasting, said Jennifer Ferro, station president general manager.

Ferro said 88.7 FM would air culturally responsive news, music and programming, creating a Santa Barbara edition of NPR’s popular morning newsmagazine, Morning Edition, and broadcasting an afternoon All Things Considered.

“What it really will do for us is allow us to have a home base,” Ferro said. “The net result is that the foundation is going to provide at least two quality radio stations.”

KUSC radio is looking forward to broadcasting under the historied three call letters of KDB and to becoming the city’s premiere classical station, which will ramp up work to localize content, according to Brenda Barns, president of University of Southern California radio, which provides the station.

“This is going to be really good for the people of Santa Barbara,” she said.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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