Radio Waves: 3/22/19

Sky Daniels steps down from 88-5 FM

“No, Bean and I are not not forming a duo in U. K. radio,” joked former KCSN (88.5 FM) programmer Sky Daniels, referring to the news that half of KROQ’s Kevin and Bean morning team is leaving local radio and moving to England. But in a blow to both the local radio and local music scenes, Daniels is leaving as well, making the decision to retire.

“I thought I was retiring in 2011,” Daniels told me. “I had been dealing with some health issues related to Crohn’s Disease and the related medications for 12 years and found myself relatively financially secure so I thought, ‘why not?’”

That’s when a friend told him to look at KCSN on the campus of Cal State Northridge. The broadcast facility is housed inside the Valley Performing Arts Center, recently renamed the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts, a state-of-the-art center with state-of-the-art broadcast studios.

They’re looking for a new program director,” his friend John Schoenberger told him. “He said to just go take a look. So I did.” He met with then General Manager Karen Kearns, who told him the job was his. “‘Whatever you think we should do,’ she told me, ‘we should do.’” Daniels said. “And I realized that this was an opportunity I could not pass up. 

“There is no other job in media that has a boss who would tell you that. I realized I had an opportunity to build something that would not only benefit listeners, but help musicians by exposing and promoting their music.” Daniels explained. Retirement had to be put off.

In the years since he joined, KCSN — now known simply by the moniker “88.5,” the station has evolved into a critically-acclaimed radio station with some of the most rabidly loyal listeners in Southern California. The format is known as Adult Album Alternative, or AAA, and includes a variety of music from singer-songwriters both past and present.

But it’s been a struggle. KCSN itself has the lowest effective power of any FM station in the area, limited by broadcast power and a low transmitter height. “We are 78th out of 78 signals in Los Angeles,” Daniels quips. “Less power than a blow dryer.” To combat that, a deal was reached to simulcast with KSBR/Mission Viejo, which broadcasts out of Saddleback College. That helped, but 88.5 still only reaches a fraction of the area served by other stations.

The simulcast brought out new struggles, as two separate universities needed to agree to terms, and there is no guarantee it will continue long term. Add to that the constant financial pressures faced by the station — neither university actually funds the station and all revenue must be raised through listener and corporate donations. A short-term no-interest $1 million loan is due to be paid back in four years.

All of that stress, 80-hour work weeks, a family wanting him around more, and more health issues including a throat cancer scare last year led to his decision to retire. “My doctor have been telling me that I can’t keep doing this,” Daniels said. “And while I am proud of what we created, I can’t commit to killing myself.” 

He doesn’t necessarily want to give it up fully. “If I could convince them to sell it to me, I’d love to take it over.” By doing so he could invest in it in a way that the university cannot or will not. “It’s just not their core business, and I understand that.” So he’s planning to watch the situation and is ready to reconnect if the opportunity arises.

In the meantime he plans to become a “musician’s advocate,” and continue his quest to help musicians and promote new music and new and established artists. 

“I’ve had a lot of success in my career, including being number one in Chicago and more. But I consider this my biggest. This station is extremely important to Southern California, and I hope it continues for a long time.”

Jeff Penfield has been named interim programmer of 88.5 effective immediately.


KCSN dates back to 1963, when KEDC signed on the air. “I was the first full time General Manager employee starting in 1971,” Douglas Brown told me. “At that time, we were an early NPR affiliate and the  non-commercial FM was utilized as originally intended: an educational training ground for aspiring broadcasting students as well as serving the community.

“We offered an opportunity for students to get involved with engineering, writing, performing, producing, publicity, interviewing, news and sports and everything that goes into running a station,” Brown explained. “At that time, there were well more than 100 students working for the experience and college course credit. Many careers were launched from the 88.5 studios including those on air and off in L. A. radio.

“While seeing KCSN gain an audience, I am sad to see only minimal student participation in the name of promoting music artists. That later function could easily be filled by commercial stations.”

Brown himself is one of the people whose careers were launched from the station. He went on to become a master production director and engineer, working at such legendary stations as KHJ (930 AM), KNX-FM (now KCBS-FM, 93.1) and KMGG (now KPWR, 105.9 FM).