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KFAC Refugees Look for a New Place to Call Home on Radio Dial

Times Staff Writer

As KFAC-FM bit the dust as a classical music radio station Wednesday, the announcers and their supporters are looking to find a new and more amiable spot on the radio dial.

“A group of us are trying to determine the possibility of starting a full-time classical music station in Southern California,” KFAC announcer John Santana said Wednesday.

Sound familiar?

A similar plan was announced with much local brouhaha in 1987. That plan, which never panned out, was spearheaded by Carl Princi, a veteran classical music broadcaster who was one of the early casualties of the group that took over KFAC in 1987.

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Santana, however, feels more optimistic this time because “the timing is so much different.”

“So many people have expressed that interest. So many people have called us, talked to us, asking, ‘Can’t somebody do more classical music on the air?’ that we have to look into it.”

But Santana, a Brea resident who joined KFAC full-time in 1987, admitted that the group faces the same hurdle that tripped Princi: money. Or, more accurately, the lack of it.

“If you have the money today, you can have a station tomorrow,” Santana said.

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And for now, his group doesn’t have it.

But Santana says that the group’s strategy will be to look for a lower-powered station, which “you can buy for a more reasonable sum.” (KFAC broadcasts with a signal of 100,000 watts.)

Meanwhile, Santana said that there will be at least some classical music in his future, thanks to KKGO-FM (105.1), the jazz station that recently has added some classical programming to help fill the void left by KFAC’s demise.

“I’ve been hired (as an announcer) at KKGO, although I don’t have a regular shift there,” he said.

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“For the time being, I am on a fill-in basis--when somebody is ill or wants a day off.”

Santana will also continue to host orchestra programs and give pre-concert lectures for various groups. (He was host of the Pacific Symphony’s summer series at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre for the past two years. His next gig is a pre-concert lecture for the South Coast Symphony on Oct. 7).

He plans to keep paying the rent from his small, 7-year-old computer-programming business.

Santana, 37, has lived in Orange County since 1970. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music composition at Cal State Fullerton.

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It was while he was a student in 1976 that he “sort of wandered in off the streets” and began looking for work as an announcer at KFAC.

“Carl Princi was really kind about the whole thing,” Santana said. “He said, ‘We have no positions for announcers, but I know that’s not good enough for you. Come in, and we’ll show you the station.’ ”

He began working as a board operator and engineer on weekends, took publicity photographs for the station and eventually began filling in as an announcer.

Ironically, Santana was the only announcer kept on after Classical Communications took over in 1987 and discharged Princi and other longtime KFAC staffers. (Classical Communications, in turn, sold the station in January to Evergreen Media Corp., which recently decided to adopt a rock format at the station.)

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“It was a shock,” Santana said, remembering the 1987 blood bath. Despite Princi’s experience of 33 years, he and a host of other familiar voices were unceremoniously dismissed.

“All those other people I still count as my friends,” Santana said. “What I know about classical music, I credit to them.”

Santana doesn’t point fingers at the new regime, however.

“They said that they were going to try to keep it classical,” he said. “I just chose to believe that they would try until there was good reason to believe otherwise.”

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Surely there were rumors?

“There are always rumors,” he said. “But I’m not a suspicious person that way. I still to this day believe that when (the new owners) came in they didn’t intend to change it or that that was their main thought. . . .

“I join the other voices who lament (KFAC’s) passing, but I honestly don’t feel that listeners will be without classical music on the radio. (But) it may take a while--a year or two--for the marketplace to work out what the listeners want to hear.”

As far as Princi’s bid to set up a classical-music station in Orange County, Princi is still disappointed that he and a consortium of his supporters were unsuccessful in their plan to purchase KWIZ-FM (96.7) in Santa Ana.

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“I was very gung-ho on the project two years ago,” Princi said by phone Wednesday. “But I couldn’t generate the financial interest in Orange County. The people I spoke with were tremendously interested in the radio station, but the people with money were not ready to put it in.”


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