Malibu’s KBU 97.5 FM Looks to January Air Date

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KBU 97.5 General Manager Hans Laetz has set up the station’s control room in his home temporarily. Those hoping to host shows will likely be able to submit playlists and pre-recorded shows. 

As 2014 winds to a close, Malibu locals have a reason to look forward to the new year, with long-awaited KBU 97.5 FM scheduled to go live on Jan. 15, 2015.

In the works for over a year, the call numbers represent a station meant to cover western Malibu, the first of two Malibu stations that hope to be broadcasting before next summer. Sister station 107.9, out of eastern Malibu, could be running as early as March, said KBU General Manager Hans Laetz.

The radio station’s primary mission is local news and information, with community programming a secondary priority.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing … I think it can be very valuable for emergencies, for traffic alerts,” said KBU board of directors member and Malibu City Councilmember Laura Rosenthal, who added, “I’m very excited I’m going to be able to listen to NPR and their programming in Malibu. Also it’s an outlet for many talented people and interesting people here in Malibu.”

Building the two low-frequency stations has been a project primarily taken up by Malibu local Laetz, who spent last winter working with the FCC on licensing and getting the station off the ground. It is now a registered nonprofit with 501(c)3 status.

Since the FCC granted a license to the station in March 2013, focus has turned to programming and creating a physical studio, which now exists in the former childhood bedroom of Laetz’s daughter, Emily.

“Eventually, we’re going to have a real station where people can meet and do shows,” Laetz said. “Not now, but soon.”

For now, amidst the bedroom furniture and childhood keepsakes, the studio consists of equipment donated by Santa Monica-based NPR affiliate station KCRW, as well as some purchased by Laetz.

Laetz has so far poured thousands of dollars into the project, including purchasing a $7,500-transmitter and $7,300 worth of automation hardware and software in November.

“One friendly guy politely sneered that we’ll be enjoying us some government money … NOT ONE PENNY!” Laetz writes in the KBU blog at www.kbu.fm.

However, according to board members such as Malibu Times Publisher Arnold York, the station’s expenses will go down once the initial setup is complete.

“NPR makes their shows available at a very modest cost,” York said. “We’ll probably get some grants and do an event or two if we need some equipment.”

Although nothing is set in stone, Laetz said he’s been in conversation with staff at KCRW in Santa Monica, and an agreement can be made to broadcast popular NPR news shows such as Morning Edition and Press Play.

Laetz has also begun forming ideas about a programming schedule, with Washington DC-based Morning Edition in the early morning, modern rock during the day, Santa Monica-based Press Play in the afternoon and community programming at night and during the weekends, and there seem to be endless possibilities for the station.

Rosenthal stressed that although the station is public, the city could look to use it as a way to get information out to citizens and create dialogue with city officials and “as a forum for people to be able to discuss city issues.”

“I hope that different Council people that are interested can do a call-in show,” Rosenthal said, “those are things that the general manager will be looking into. I already know lots of people that are already interested.”

York said that the station could partner with local news sources as well.

“We would probably do a ‘Malibu Times Minute’ or something,” York said, adding, “My preference is, I’d like to do a talk show, with interviews. Some of these topics are really complicated.”

For music lovers hoping to host a show, Laetz has a studio server with 19 days worth of music on it, and is developing a relationship with a station in Riverside to access their music library as well.

“This has never been done,” Laetz said. “We’re turning the radio voice tracking business upside down. We’re going to take lots of people and one station.”

According to Laetz, technology was developed to allow one DJ to send out pre-recorded shows to multiple stations across the country. What KBU seeks to do with its evening and weekend music shows is to reverse the process, with multiple DJs submitting shows to a single station.

“If it works: A, I’ll be amazed, and B, we’re going to have something very unusual here,” Laetz said.