By Mike Kinosian, Managing Editor
and Kevin Casey, VP/Executive Editor
SANTA CRUZ, Cal. — KSCO, Santa Cruz, a longtime news/talk powerhouse serving California’s Central Coast, has launched a unique and compelling weekly two-hour radio show designed to keep Americans apprised of the dangers being presented to US interests domestically and worldwide by China and the Chinese Communist Party.
Provocatively titled China Über Alles (China Above All) – a name sarcastically referencing the infamous slogan “Deutschland Über Alles” utilized by the Nazis to convey their dark message of German worldwide superiority in the 1930s and 1940s – the show discusses the ongoing war of subversion being waged against the US by the communist regime in Beijing and its shocking human rights abuses of Chinese citizens, including political dissidents, investigative journalists, ethnic minorities and seekers of religious freedom.
KSCO (104.1 FM/1080 AM) is a big-signaled, conservative-leaning news/talker, locally owned and operated by Zwerling Broadcasting System (ZBS). Aside from being Rush Limbaugh’s affiliate in the Monterey/Salinas/Santa Cruz market (Nielsen #91), most of the station’s programming is locally generated. It has a sister station, KOMY-AM 1340, a news/talker also owned by ZBS.
Since taking ownership of the station in 1991, ZBS president/CEO Michael Zwerling (known to most as “MZ”) has been hosting “The Saturday Special” on KSCO – a 10:00 am to 12:00 noon iconic commercial-free gabfest that includes serious discussions about local and national issues as well as fun conversations about the arts, entertainment, trends, lifestyles and gossip. As things turned out, this program played a role in what would eventually emerge as China Über Alles.
Through what proved to be a fortuitous chance encounter a year ago, Zwerling became acquainted with Amy Hao, a Chinese American woman who spent the first 27 years of her life in communist China, the last 10 of which found her imprisoned in a CCP labor camp. “Her story is amazing,” Zwerling says about the now 68-year-old Hao. “She wanted to come here for a long time and she finally made it. She has traveled to many parts of the world and has built a remarkable life in a mostly liberal part of California. My mother [Kay Zwerling, who died nearly four years ago at the age of 95] did conservative commentaries on KSCO, but Amy makes my mother look like an extreme leftist.”
Fascinated by that, Zwerling invited Amy Hao, as well as The Epoch Times senior reporter Nan Su, to appear on one of Zwerling’s iconic Saturday shows.
At TALKERS 2019 in New York City, Michael Harrison introduced Zwerling to Nan Su. “I thought Amy and Nan Su would be great guests on a ‘Saturday Special’ to discuss what’s really going on in China,” Zwerling reasons. “All I know is that China makes it possible for those of us in this country to have very affordable things. Some aren’t very good quality and, I guess, some are; however, it seems you can’t get any kind of a widget that is made in the USA these days.”
One thing led to another and the two eventually joined MZ on-air. “It occurred to me that very few people in talk radio are really addressing the danger the Chinese Communist Party poses to the United States,” Zwerling tells TALKERS. “And no one that I know of was doing a regularly-scheduled talk show devoted to the broad topic of how operations in China are having a profound effect on our present – and particularly our future.”
Program of culture
That sparked the idea for China Über Alles, which airs live each Thursday from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm PT. Hosted by Amy Hao, Nan Su, and KSCO’s director of production/chief engineer Bill Graff, its 11th episode is set to stream tomorrow (10/29).
According to Nan Su, “The concern about China is no longer limited to human rights and freedom in China. It is about defending the freedom, security, and democracy of the future generations in the United States and the western world.”
Unfair China trade practices, invasive surveillance, human rights abuses, intellectual property theft, military aggression in the South China Sea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the origins and cover up of COVID-19 and questioning if “the NBA should move to China” are among a myriad of topics covered on the series.
Two, one-hour weekly conference calls are conducted to assemble China Über Alles. Participating in those meetings are Zwerling, Hao, Nan, Graff, Michael Olson, and Jonty McCollyer, the director of digital operations for KSCO and the ZBS Radio Network. “He has worked with me for years to build the ZBS infrastructure,” Zwerling remarks. “Bill Graff is the guy with the golden voice and does all the station imaging. He’s also a heck of a good talk show host and serves as an effective moderator. And Michael Olson is a member of the KSCO management team who is known nationally in the industry for his program “The Food Chain.” He is a superb broadcaster and is fluent in Chinese.” Also at these meetings are a rotating variety of invited guests including experts on American foreign policy, international trade and technology. Many of them participate in the show when it airs.”
Each broadcast opens with Amy Hao imparting a story that is somehow related to the main topic that the aforementioned principals decided on in their Monday confab. “She has hundreds – if not thousands – of stories to share,” Zwerling estimates. “The hosts then discuss it among themselves.”
Listener phone calls are taken in the latter part of China Über Alles, currently heard on KSCO, which Zwerling describes as being “sort of our Petri dish” and an “ideal place to experiment with programming. We are ‘culturing’ it there [as well as on co-owned simulcast KOMY] and don’t have to run things up a corporate flagpole – we just do it.”
Size doesn’t matter at this point
Like many active and influential stations, KSCO isn’t a Nielsen Audio subscriber, perhaps making it difficult to get an “official” handle on the size of the China Über Alles listenership at this early stage in the program’s development, although Zwerling opines, “I’d like to think it’s a general talk radio audience – people who care about what’s going on around them. Talk radio – and KSCO in particular – is all about people who have an investment in the community. I would broaden that and say people who listen to talk radio have an investment in their country. People who have an investment in their country should know what’s going on and we are inching closer to losing our country because of the monster we have created in China. It’s owing to the fact that we like things to be cheap and, let’s face it, major corporations and politicians have been in bed with the CCP for years and willing to sell out long-term American interests for the profits involved. People need to know that China isn’t about making our lives more affordable. It is about taking our freedoms from us.”
The plan at this point is to promote the show nationally in social media as well as in TALKERS to attract audiences from across the nation and even around the world to the KSCO live stream as well as the station’s archives where each edition of China Über Alles is available on demand.
Zwerling tells TALKERS, “In the 21st century, the right programming can make any facility – especially a unique one like KSCO – a ‘superstation’ that people tune into from everywhere.” When asked about the possibilities of syndication, Zwerling says, “We certainly would entertain meaningful an legitimate offers but for now, the superstation model is the one we are following – at least in regard to this very special and important program.”
Other than Amy Hao receiving an email likening her to “Tokyo Rose,” reaction to China Über Alles has been overwhelmingly affirmative. “We haven’t had a single negative call, each one has been congratulatory,” enthuses Zwerling, who also functions as the show’s executive producer. “Input is mostly from Anglo-Americans who aren’t particularly knowledgeable about China. Every positive comment we’ve received includes how emotional it makes people when they hear one of Amy’s five to 10-minute stories at the top of the show. They cannot listen to an ‘Amy story’ without being wowed and shaken with emotion. She has lived through the horrors of what’s happening in her homeland an represents a growing resistance by millions of Chinese people in America and around the world who’ve been forced to flee their native land in search of freedom.”
Zwerling wasn’t always an outspoken critic of the CCP but an eye opening event changed all that. Along with a group of Bay Area businesspeople and government officials, Zwerling embarked on his first trip to China nearly two years ago. “It was a great way to go because we were treated like visiting royalty by the CCP,” he recounts. “I was amazed that they paid such close attention to us and fed us the most incredible food.”
Nearly missing the journey because of a rejected visa application, Zwerling wasn’t counseled beforehand about the negativity of listing “broadcaster” as his occupation. “I am a broadcaster – that’s what I do – but I was told that is theworst thing in the world you can put down. The only reason I got a visa at all was that the group I went with said it doesn’t matter what Trump says or does. Our message to them was, ‘We love you people and don’t want to do lessbusiness with you, we want to do much, much more business with you.’ I was sort of quiet on that particular statement – I was just watching and observing.”
While everybody else on the trip had unlimited 10-year passes, the once-only visa Zwerling secured had to be used within 30 days. “The only reason I got mine was that I was willing to give the consulate a handwritten statement that I would not do any broadcasting or business in China – even though the world’s biggest trade show was being held there during my visit. Other people in our group got to meet Xi Jinping], but I missed seeing him by about 90 seconds.”
Upon his return from China, Zwerling confessed on-air he hadn’t anticipated being as impressed with what he witnessed there. “Some people on our trip visited China 30 years ago when Shanghai had a Quonset hut airport and it’s now the most cosmopolitan city in the world. They have had phenomenal growth and accommodate 26 million people. It’s not an exaggeration to say that city took shape in less time than it takes to get a stinking building permit for a single-family home in Santa Cruz or San Francisco. It made me think these guys are pretty smart and I wish people in the United States would adopt the way they get things done. But once my interest in China was sparked, I quickly learned that the CCP’s hospitality was an act of propaganda and I increasingly became aware of the truth.”
Positioning and sponsorship
Rationale for slotting China Über Alles on Thursday afternoons is twofold. “I wanted to put it on in primetime – specifically not on a weekend – and we had a 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm opening,” Zwerling explains. “There was an okay local sports show in that time period, but KSCO is not particularly about sports – there are hundreds of excellent sports talk channels out there. I thought it was time to develop a program no one else is doing.”
While the broadcast doesn’t have any specific advertisers or sponsors, it is because Zwerling hasn’t actively pursued any… at least not yet. “There have been discussions about who would be a good sponsor, but there aren’t too many possibilities,” he maintains. “This is a challenge that we must face. Many companies – especially big-tech ones – don’t want to go cross-eyed with China. We are not about sinking their ship, but that’s not what they think. They will wonder why they should support something that will make their lives difficult in the future. The key is for us to find business that are not in bed with China and have a lot to gain by bringing manufacturing back to America and a new awareness of what’s best for the US and its people.”
Several breaks are currently logged within the two-hour program, although a modification may soon be on the horizon. “There are businesses out there that would be ideal sponsors for this; however, for the time being while we establish this thing, I am going to format the show so it doesn’t have commercials,” Zwerling divulges. “It is going to go straight through so we won’t have stops at all, unless we absolutely have to. This show could be sponsored by a proudly made-in-America-type company and I think there are increasingly more of those. If not, I might throw in a few commercials for the health supplement business – a product line that has been one of our biggest success stories and revenue generators at KSCO for years now.”
Whenever the 68-year-old Zwerling entertains thoughts about retirement, he is hastily reminded it will lead to boredom; thus, the notion of developing China Über Alles is highly intriguing to him at this point. “I’d want it more than I wouldn’twant it,” he muses. “Amy Hao and Nan Su are phenomenally articulate and I’d like them to be as busy as they are willing to become as guests on other talk shows and podcasts. That is a major way that this is going to get out as it needs to.”
News/talk radio is arguably the medium’s most popular format; however, Zwerling warns that, “Radio is contracting. I don’t like saying that, but that’s the reality.”
Nonetheless, tens of millions of people remain transfixed to a genre where time spent listening stats can be nothing less than eye-popping. “Talk radio listeners tend to be 55+,” counters Zwerling. “I am well into that category myself, but I am very distressed about the young people who don’t even know what radio is – let alone talk radio. They only know podcasts. I want to get our show more into the awareness of the big podcasters. Many of them might not even give us the time of day because they don’t like what we are expressing. We are about spreading the word that the Chinese Communist Party is evil – but not the Chinese people. Multiply whatever Reagan said about the ‘Evil Empire’ times one thousand and that’s the threat of the CCP. Americans may know some of this, but not all of it. This is really scary stuff, so why in the world isn’t more about it being discussed on talk radio? I don’t understand it – but I’m doing my part.”