Jazz DJs at KCSM are spinning the blues
By Ben Fong-Torres
March 16, 2017
Photo: Amy Osborne, Special To The Chronicle
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KCSM DJ, Sonny Buxton, at the exclusive benefit concert for the late NEA Jazz Master Bobby Hutcherson held at SFJazz on Oct. 24, 2016.
There’s trouble in Jazzville. KCSM (91.1 FM), one of the last bastions of true (as opposed to smooth) jazz, is in upheaval mode. The public station, owned by the San Mateo County Community College District and based at the College of San Mateo, is dispatching all but a core group of full-time DJs by July.
For years, KCSM has relied on an impressive stable of musicians and broadcasters who’ve programmed and hosted eclectic and lively specialty shows ranging from one to three hours. No more. The 19 part-timers, including Dick Conte, Sonny Buxton, Harry Duncan, Jayne Sanchez and Greg Bridges, were informed that their services would no longer be required, and their hours will be filled by recorded shows and, eventually, by CSM students.
As reported by Jesse Hamlin in The Chronicle, college administrators are saying it’s a budgetary issue, with KCSM reportedly having a $180,000 shortfall last year. In an online “Message to Our Listeners from Members of the Part Time Staff at KCSM Jazz 91,” staffers said, “The truth is that we have been given a very muddled and shifting list of reasons for these sudden cutbacks; the budget issue is real, but not the complete story. Other reasons include a new enforcement of HR policies previously overlooked, and a need to involve students with the station more.”
Part-timers are considered “short-term” or “at will” employees and are not union members, and have worked with a waiver from the union. One staffer said the union “wants to eliminate this classification of employee.”
As listeners began to protest on the station’s Facebook page, and as talk spread that KCSM might be sold, Dante Betteo, the general manager, posted a response: “There are absolutely no plans to sell KCSM-FM. … What we are doing is slightly modifying our program schedule to make better use of our funding.”
Despite the station’s shortfall, there reportedly is surplus money of some $1 million, raised from KCSM pledge drives but controlled by the college district. The part-timers say questions to administrators “have gotten us little to no response. … No solid explanation has been given as to why the station can't dip into the rainy-day fund.”
Most of the part-time announcers made $20 to $25 an hour (plus one hour per shift for preparation work). Said one of them, “The future of KCSM is what's at stake here. That's not drama; it's a fact.”
Displaced staffers have said the remaining full-timers have been supportive of them, and vice versa. The survivors are program director and morning DJ Alisa Clancy, operations director and DJ Melanie Berzon, DJ/music director Chuy Varela, and DJ/production director Chris Cortez. Efforts are being made, the part-timers said, to bring some of them back. Duncan, host of “In the Soul Kitchen” on Sunday evenings, was quickly rehired after his announcement of his show’s cancellation triggered a storm of protest. Others are seeking alternative media outlets. Jim Bennett, host of “In the Moment,” has posted his show, featuring live jazz recorded at local clubs, on Soundcloud.
We know the way: For the first time in 11 years, the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame is going south for its Legendary Station of the Year. It’s KLIV (1590 AM), the pioneering Top 40 station out of San Jose.
David F. Jackson, who founded the hall of fame over a decade ago, has a soft spot for KLIV. He writes: “I grew up in Fremont, where KLIV was a distinct and lively alternative to KYA and KEWB in the era when The Beatles came crashing in on us; KLIV was very much the ‘Surfer Station,’ tempting kids to stop by and pick up a free package of hot dogs and buns, and a sixer of Canada Dry cream soda or ginger ale on the way over the hill to Santa Cruz during the summer, while playing plenty of Beach Boys, Jan & Dean and Surfaris tunes.
“After KEWB disappeared into the ether and KFRC stampeded in, KLIV was still a great choice for that far-right push button on the car radio, with guys like John McLeod (or ‘McCloud,’ as they billed him, a.k.a. “The Giant Freckle”), Bob Ray, Dave Sholin, John Bettencourt, Ross McGowan (later of KTVU), John Lester (later of KGO-TV) and George Sampson.
“McLeod started with KLIV in the late 1960s and still works there. That may make him the dean of Bay Area broadcasters.”
BARHOF will present a salute to KLIV and owner Bob Kieve at a Broadcast Legends luncheon in June.
Outta here: KNBR’s management has done away with the station’s sports updates. In doing so, it’s said goodbye to two guys who did those updates and worked as producers: Joe Hughes and Matt Kolsky. If those names ring a bell beyond their on-air work, it might be because they were among the more prominent voices in the union battle at Cumulus Media for higher wages. Hughes, a 10-year veteran at the station, told me he was making $20 an hour; others worked for the minimum wage ($13). Last we heard, there were negotiations planned for last fall. But there’s been no news of any progress.
No response from program director Lee Hammer to a request for a comment.
Bleu smoke: Don Bleu checks in: “I just finished playing an NFL owner on the HBO series ‘Ballers.’ They asked me if I wanted to smoke a cigar in a scene. ‘Sure.’ At the end of the day I found out I got an extra $9 smoke pay.”
“Ballers” kicks off a new season in June and Bleu’s episode is the finale. “I’d tell you more about story lines and locations,” he said, “but The Rock would crush my head.”
Ben Fong-Torres is a freelance writer.