The Story of Classical KUSC - Classical KUSC

Culture / The Story of Classical KUSC

The Story of
Classical KUSC

Once a small student-run station broadcasting
from the University of Southern California
campus, KUSC is now the largest and most
listened to public radio and non-profit classical
music station in the United States.

Our Roots

The plans for KUSC were hatched near the end of WWII in
bustling downtown Los Angeles. At the time, Los Angeles
was the nation’s capital for radio and motion picture
production — and television was on the rise.

  • Established In 1946

  • G_Allan_Hancock

    Thanks to a generous gift from USC alumnus Captain George Allan Hancock, an oil magnate and cello player for the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra, USC was able to build a 250-foot radio tower atop the Hancock Foundation building on campus. Students began broadcasting October 24th on an FM band that was so new, they identified themselves as “Frequency Modulated KUSC Radio.”

  • 1947 Slide

    Though limited to a 10-mile radius from the USC campus, more than 1,000 students nationwide applied for admission to the USC radio department. Radio Life noted in its August 17th issue that USC was “the first privately endowed institution in American educational history to own and operate its own radio station and the first to operate both AM and FM stations.”

  • 1973 slide

    Wally Smith, a graduate student finishing his doctorate in communication at the university, became the station’s General Manager. After studying the Los Angeles radio market, Smith recognized an outstanding opportunity just waiting to be seized. “It was very clear to me that what this city needed and what public radio was uniquely suited to do was a really serious full-time classical music radio station,” he said. KUSC went all-classical on April 2nd and would soon set the national standard for classical music radio.

  • 1976 slide

    The Corporation for Public Broadcasting awarded KUSC a five-year, $750,000 major market expansion grant — the first such grant in the nation. The funds helped attract major audiences to public radio and established a downtown L.A. space for full-time professional announcers, producers and engineers. KUSC also signed on in stereo from its new transmitter on Lookout Mountain above Hollywood, expanding its audience potential to 12 million people.

  • EPSON MFP image

    KUSC was on the air 24 hours a day with the largest audience of any public radio station in the country. At this point, the station had become a full-fledged production center, broadcasting Carlo Maria Giulini’s first season as conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

  • photo-1445387267924-a723a28a33ca

    KUSC became the first public radio station in Southern California with an up-link satellite earth station, which allowed it to beam programs via satellite to other public radio stations across the country.

  • star wars kusc

    KUSC begins to expand, acquiring KCPB, which introduced new audiences in Thousands Oaks and Ventura County to KUSC.

    Fun fact: This was also the year George Lucas gave KUSC the radio serialization rights to Star Wars, which was co-produced with NPR.

  • Olympic Torch Tower of the Los Angeles Coliseum on the day of the opening ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Olympics.

    Just in time for the 1984 Olympics, based in L.A., KUSC became a "superstation" by acquiring two stereo channels on an earth-orbiting satellite and broadcasting the Olympic Arts Festival live to the nation.

  • yifan-ma-lVbc4XCaxnk-unsplash-santa-barbara

    KUSC expands into Santa Barbara. Years later, KUSC worked with multiple radio stations to preserve the legacy and keep classical music on historic 93.7 FM KDB in Santa Barbara.

  • Palm Springs, California - February 12, 2016: Palm trees in silhouette with a mountain backdrop early morning in Palm Springs California

    KUSC was granted a license to construct a new station that would serve the desert communities far east of Los Angeles. Construction began on what would become KUSC's third sister station, KPSC Palm Springs.

  • Beethoven slide

    After experimenting with a newer, more eclectic mix of classical, jazz, folk and world music, KUSC returned to its roots with an all-classical format. In December, the station celebrated Beethoven's birthday by filling the airwaves with the composer's music and influences for a full week. That same month, listeners generated a landmark $410,640 in 10 days of fundraising, including a then-record $78,402 in a single day.

  • Dorothy Chandler Pavillion in downtown LA

    KUSC became the only full-time FM classical station in Southern California and raised a record $1.3 million during its Fall on-air membership drive. KUSC also produced the first live Los Angeles Opera broadcast since the company's inaugural season.

  • Lovely sunset on the north side of Morro Rock, in Morro Bay, California. Morro Rock is a volcanic plug, part of the Nine Sisters of San Luis Obispo County that string from San Luis Obispo to the Morro Rock.

    KUSC expands into the central coast with a new signal in Morro Bay.

  • KUSC Pop Up v2

    KUSC launches Playground Pop-Ups: a new initiative bringing live classical performances of the highest quality to elementary schools in low-income areas and schools that lack the resources to provide their own arts and music programs.

  • Photos from Kids Discovery Day v15

    The first-ever KUSC Kids Discovery Day takes place at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, featuring activities all day, live performances, interactive musical games designed just for kids, and a live broadcast. After a wildly successful event, the program expanded to multiple events at different locations across California each year.

  • 4k_KUSC_Building_3 copy

    Classical KUSC moved into what is now the iconic, 32-story USC building in heart of downtown Los Angeles.

  • Jim Svejda

    Jim Svejda celebrated his 40th year with KUSC and the launch of "The Jim Svejda Fund for Talent Development".

  • Alan Chapman at home

    KUSC hosts and engineers worked around the clock to make sure we didn't miss a beat when we rushed to learn how to broadcast from home at the beginning of the pandemic.

  • At home with gustavo

    KUSC partners with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and Gustavo Dudamel to launch a new series, "At Home with Gustavo", a one-hour program featuring handpicked music from the superstar conductor. Gustavo joined KUSC’s Brian Lauritzen to play his selections and discuss why these personal music choices are important to listen to in a time of social isolation. The series continued with other notable guests such as Esa-Pekka Salonen, John Adams, Yuja Wang, Thomas Wilkins, Ray Chen, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Susanna Mälkki, John Williams, Musicians of the LA Phil, and a Spanish-language version featuring Gustavo and his wife María Valverde.

  • Lara Downes by Max Barrett_2021 9x6 v2

    Lara Downes joins KUSC’s digital team as Resident Artist and as a vibrant creative force in digital productions, offering audiences new and exciting moments of discovery.

  • Celebration

    KUSC celebrates 75 years on the air, looking toward the future while nurturing a love of classical music for all.

Our Mission Today

We make a positive impact on individuals and communities by championing the power of classical music.


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