Photo by Jeanne RiceThe storyline of Santa Ana-based indie radio station KUOL-FM 90.9 has degenerated into a soap opera. First, KUOL-FM 90.9 no longer exists. It's now simply the Crush, and it broadcasts 24/7 only on www.theorangecrush.com. And that bit about how it was going to restart radio broadcasts Dec. 31 with a boosted signal—1,500 watts, up from 300, enough juice to cover most of OC? Forget it: the transmitter atop their building next to MainPlace Mall has been sold to pay off creditors.
What happened? According to new owner/operator and station DJ Jason Martinez, original station owner Thomas Miller never completed the required Federal Communications Commission (FCC) paperwork but was broadcasting anyway, basically functioning as a pirate station since early October.
Miller relinquished control of the station to Martinez, DJ Rain Balen and station manager Dionne Kemp after Martinez and Balen confronted him in mid-November about the problematic paperwork.
The three say they soon found other improprieties. They allege:
•Miller apparently never received FCCapproval for his call letters; a KUOL already runs in San Marcos, Texas.
•Miller was playing advertisements on air, a violation of FCC rules that dictate only public-service or noncommercial stations are allowed to broadcast below 92.1 on the FM frequency.
•Miller failed to pay royalties to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) for the right to play music by big-name artists.
•That Miller paid some employees only occasionally since they were hired in August; Martinez claims he's owed about $8,000 in back salary.
Miller appears to have been something of a smooth talker, who charmed his small five-person staff (and this reporter—see "Sonic Splendor," Nov. 8) into believing his every word.
"[Miller] was very passionate about the station, and that passion roped us in," Balen admits. "When someone's telling you exactly what you want to hear, I'm a sucker for that."
Kemp is blunter: "He lied to us. When I first walked in the door, I asked Thomas if KUOL was legal, and he swore it absolutely was. We were totally taken."
Reached by phone, Miller said simply that KUOL "wasn't a good situation."
"The real travesty was that we had built up so much upon a lie," Balen says.
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Despite the fiasco, Martinez, Balen and Kemp are still optimistic about the Crush. Call up the old KUOL website, and there's a mission statement from the trio that declares going Net-only "allows us the freedom to be who we really are: three malnourished, gaunt-faced, rib-showing, young 'could've-beens' who love independent music, whether it be here in Orange County or all throughout the free world. . . . We thank you for your cooperation."
"It's going to take a while, but I'm not going to let this dream die," Kemp says. "I have kids, and I have bills."
Martinez isn't sure if the Crush will ever become a real broadcast station again. For the moment, he's concentrating on rustling up investors while webcasting local indie bands, maybe eventually including indie bands from around the globe.
"We just want to make sure everything is legit," he says. "We're focusing on keeping this place alive. And I have patience. I'll put my last dime into OC—although I gave my last dime away a couple of days ago.