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Lawsuit says Rocklin K-LOVE operator cheated radio pioneer

Estate of audio engineer Richard Bushell alleges nonprofit reneged on revenue sharing, handshake agreement
By: Graham Womack, Staff Writer
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Shortly after Richard Bushell’s retirement from K-LOVE Radio’s parent nonprofit in 2013, the Christian radio station posted a YouTube video in which Bushell details his pioneering role in the station’s growth.

K-LOVE began in Santa Rosa in 1981 as a small, 10-watt station, 91.9 KCLB. Thereafter, as Bushell discusses in the video, he helped the station greatly expand its reach through the use of audio translator equipment, which could carry the station’s signal to other geographic areas.

Today, K-LOVE operates nationwide. Forbes.com lists the station’s Rocklin-based parent, the Educational Media Foundation, as the 90th largest U.S. charity, with estimated revenue for the 2015 fiscal year of $166 million.

“When we first turned that first expansion station on, some have said that you must have had a sense that God was really with us,” Bushell says in the video, posted in March 2013 to K-LOVE’s YouTube channel. “And we did, that is true. But as to what was going to become of this, we had no idea.”

Now, Bushell’s role as a K-LOVE pioneer has led to a lawsuit.

Bushell died June 27, 2016 in Roseville at 76. A lawsuit filed April 7, 2017 in Placer County Superior Court on behalf of Bushell’s widow Susan alleges that the Educational Media Foundation (EMF) reneged on a revenue-sharing agreement following Bushell’s retirement Jan. 18, 2013, and terminated it following his death.

Specifically, the lawsuit claims that Bushell “built, designed and engineered certain equipment known as ‘translators’ which facilitated the transmission of low-power FM radio signals by extending the range of said signals.”

Bushell established four radio stations and became acquainted with K-LOVE president and CEO Richard Jenkins.

In 1988, the lawsuit states, Bushell “expended countless hours in engineering time and expertise … to link the weak EMF Santa Rosa station KCLB from Mt. St. Helena to Fremont Peak in Salinas, a distance of approximately 145 miles.”

In the K-LOVE video, Bushell speaks of seeing Jenkins after they turned on the expansion station.

“I walked out next to him and he was crying,” Bushell says in the video. “Looking out over all the lights of the city, San Francisco and the Bay Area, we knew for the first time that so many people could now hear the message of the hope of Jesus, through the music and words of K-LOVE Radio.”

Bushell operated his four radio stations through 2003 with programming provided by EMF under a revenue-sharing agreement, the suit states.

In approximately 2003, after the Federal Communications Commission announced it was accepting applications for 600 low-power radio stations, Jenkins invited Bushell to move from Salinas to Rocklin and come work for EMF as an employee. The suit states that Bushell and the team he assembled went on to obtain more than 400 of the 600 available FCC radio station licenses on behalf of EMF.

Bushell and Jenkins struck an informal deal upon his joining the company: Bushell would continue to receive revenue-sharing payments for two of his stations broadcasting K-LOVE programming and receive a salary in lieu of payments for his two other stations, which broadcast content from another EMF subsidiary, Air1.

The revenue-sharing payments for the two stations broadcasting Air1 content were to resume after Bushell’s retirement from EMF, but they didn’t, the suit alleges. It states that Bushell continued to broadcast EMF content following his retirement, believing the foundation would honor its commitment.

Instead, according to the suit, EMF ended revenue-sharing payments for Bushell’s two K-LOVE stations three months after his death and simultaneously terminated EMF-provided programming for all four of his stations.

The suit claims that as of its filing, “no compensation of any kind has been provided to plaintiffs for … broadcasting Air1 programming for the period of Jan. 18, 2013 through the present.”

The suit, filed by Edward Smith of Roseville-based New Point Law Group LLP, seeks a range of unlimited damages for Bushell’s wife of 50 years and widow, Susan, and a nonprofit they operated, Dayspring Communications Foundation.

Jenkins, who is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, left EMF in 2007 and now serves as president of Loomis-based Immaculate Heart Radio. He didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment left Tuesday morning.

An assistant for Jenkins’ successor Mike Novak said he was deferring comment to EMF legal counsel, who didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday morning.

A hearing in the case is set for Aug. 1 at Placer County Superior Court in Roseville