Coming Soon to Malibu Airwaves: 97.5 KBU

KBU 97.5

Plans to establish a Malibu community radio station kicked into high gear last week, with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issuing construction approval for a transmitter in western Malibu. 

Approval for KBU 97.5 comes less than four months after the initial application for a Malibu radio station to be located in the Point Dume / Zuma Beach area was sent in by a group of community members headed by local activist and station manager Hans Laetz. Along with that request, another group headed by Laetz filed for the 99.1 frequency in eastern Malibu, which has yet to be issued. 

Laetz said there are still several steps left before fully establishing KBU: securing a permanent home for the transmitter and studio, achieving nonprofit status, the pledging of fundraising and underwriting support and seeking a possible partnership with a local NPR affiliate. 

Nonetheless, the station can go live as soon as a transmitter is situated. 

“What we think we’re going to do is go on the air as fast as possible just to get on the air… in a temporary studio, and start letting people play music,” said Laetz, whose garage will serve as KBU’s studio in the interim. 

“If I had a transmitter site right now,” Laetz said on Sunday, “we could be on the air on Tuesday.” 

Laetz, whose bid for a local radio station was first reported by The Malibu Times in December, has already poured $14,000 into the project, which has a first-year projected budget of $287,000. Most of this budget depends on underwriting support from businesses that will be mentioned on-air during broadcasts, with a discount provided for Malibu businesses. 

Other fundraising is in the works, but chairperson Jeena Chanel said they are waiting to achieve Federal 501(c)3 nonprofit status before moving forward. 

“We’ll be ready to jump in running,” said Chanel, “but for now we’re focused on getting the station up on the air.” 

The transmitter, which “looks like a TV antenna” and stands 30 feet in height, was tentatively planned to sit atop the newly constructed Fire Station 71. However, the licensing for the radio station came well before construction is completed, so the group is currently looking for a suitable location. 

Once on air, Malibuites from Las Flores Canyon to Neptune’s Net can look forward to music programming provided by community members, said Laetz, who added that interested DJs should look on the KBU Facebook page for updates on how to submit their shows. 

“If you like surf-thrash music, and want to do a one hour surf-thrash show, at first, because we’re not going to have a studio, give me a podcast with you and your music in it,” said Laetz. 

Music isn’t the only planned programming for the station. It also hopes to be a primary source for local emergency alerts, traffic updates and community announcements. 

City emergency services coordinator Brad Davis said he plans on working with KBU to establish a direct line to feed emergency alerts to the station. 

“Hans and I are devising an interlink between the station and the city,” said Davis, who commented that the city has its own AM station, AM 1610, which broadcasts 24-hour alerts. 

Eventually, the KBU could also broadcast NPR’s popular news shows “Morning Edition” and “Fresh Air,” possibly becoming an NPR affiliate station. 

Other regional NPR stations have expressed support for KBU and its mission of bringing local service to Malibu. 

“Radio is meant to be local, and unfortunately we live in an era of media consolidation where you have six or seven large corporations that own thousands of stations,” said Mary Olson, general manager of NPR-affiliated KCLU in Santa Barbara and Ventura County. She emphasized that having “feet on the street” in Malibu will be hugely beneficial to the community. 

Whether or not KBU becomes affiliated with NPR, its founders plan to fill its air time with Malibu music, short news clips from council meetings, school concerts, local traffic reports and a wide variety of community programming. 

“Our job is to record what Malibu sounds like and play it back to people,” said Laetz.