“What would Jesus do? Certainly not fire 20 people.”
That’s how one local radio pro joked about the transition of KPRI (102.1 FM) from a locally owned, locally programmed rock station to a contemporary Christian music format owned by Sacramento-based EMF (Educational Media Foundation).
All 20 KPRI employees were told at a 10 a.m. meeting Monday that the station was sold and their jobs were over. KPRI is now known as “K-Love” and will carry EMF’s syndicated music format featuring artists who make adult contemporary songs with Christian-conscious lyrics. KPRI joins 275 EMF stations who carry the exact same K-Love format which features artists like Casting Crowns, MercyMe and NeedToBreathe.
There are no plans for any local programming on the new K-Love/KPRI.
An insider reports that KPRI was sold to EMF for $12 million.
Two other EMF stations already serve parts of San Diego County. Julian-based KLVJ (100.1 FM) and Campo-based KYDO (96.1 FM) are two of 118 stations that carry EMF’s Air-1 format which features Christian music targeted to a younger listener.
With its acquisition of KPRI, EMF will now cover most of the San Diego market.
Some Christian contemporary stations, such as Spirit 105 in Seattle, air 30- and 60-second commercials on a for-profit basis. EMF is a nonprofit company and does not air commercials on any of its 393 not-for-profit stations.
“We are 96- to 98-percent listener-supported,” says Joe Miller, vice president of signal development for EMF. He describes EMF’s spiritual direction as “evangelical with a traditional statement of faith.” KPRI co-owner Bob Hughes (who went by the name Robert when he DJ’d his noon-to-3 p.m. weekday show) tells the Reader that none of his staff “had any idea” that the station had been sold when they were given the news Monday morning. He said there were tears among the staff, which included morning host Chris Cantore (formerly of 91X) and nighttime host Kelly Cole
This is the second time Cole endured a station format shift. She was the music director and one of the better-known on-air personalities at KIFM (98.1 FM) for more than a decade before that station dropped its smooth jazz format and she lost her job.
Morning host “Madison” (Keith Miller) had been with 102.1 FM from 1997 until he left last year to own and operate his own station on the Caribbean island of Roatan.
Hughes and partner Jonathan Schwartz owned and operated 102.1 since 1996 when it was known as KXST “Sets 102” playing two- and three-song sets of classic rock artists. In 1998 the station switched to a so-called "Triple A" format in 1998 and adopted the call letters KPRI. Triple A stands for Adult Album Alternative and signified that its format would play modern rock by artists like Bonnie Raitt, U2, John Mayer and others who appeal to an audience who may not want the more aggressive approach adopted by alternative stations like 91X.
The KPRI call letters formerly identified San Diego’s trailblazing progressive station at 106.5 FM which went “underground” full time in 1968.
While Triple A stations thrive in San Francisco, Austin, Chicago, Denver, and Portland, it is a format that is not available in every city. With the passing of KPRI, Temecula’s KMYT (94.5 FM) is the only Triple A left in Southern California.
KPRI signed off at 3:30 Monday with Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” and immediately flipped to the K-Love feed.
Bob Hughes speaks to his listeners on a video he posted Monday on KPRI’s Facebook page.
Hughes has long said that KPRI was for sale. He and Schwartz turned down an offer last year to buy the station for $8 million. It was increasingly difficult for the two owners to keep KPRI profitable. Most other local stations are corporately owned and have the economic benefit of being part of a multiple-station group, whereas KPRI was a stand-alone owned by the private partnership of Hughes and Schwartz.
Clear Channel/iHeartradio, for instance, owns seven local stations.
It’s harder for all local radio stations as advertising income has dropped significantly in eight years. An insider says all local stations took in $230-million in 2007 but last year only grossed $160-million.
Another struggle, says Hughes, is that radio ratings in many large markets like San Diego are determined by meters that resemble beepers and must be carried on your person. He explains that professionals who like KPRI, “simply aren’t going to wear those meters everywhere they go for an extra couple of dollars a week.” In the latest Nielsen ratings KPRI was in 23rd place among all local listeners while the two alternative stations, 91X and FM-94/9 were tied for 18th.
Hughes proudly boasts that KPRI had a stellar record of presenting listener appreciation concerts, many of which were held aboard a Hornblower boat cruise. He said a handful of listeners were invited to hear Adele play live just as her career was taking off. “We just had Donavon Frankenreiter play a cruise for us last Monday [September 21]. We’ve had Imagine Dragons, Jack Johnson and Ed Sheeran play for us. And don’t forget the time we had Norah Jones and John Mayer play on the same cruise.”