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DIAL "M" FOR MEDIOCRE

WE'VE JUST LISTENED TO EVERY RADIO STATION IN DENVER--AND BOY, DO OUR EARS HURT.

part 1 of 2
In 1978 (back when he mattered), Elvis Costello recorded "Radio, Radio," a virulent, wide-ranging assault on the title medium. The key lines neatly encapsulated his views: "The radio is in the hands/Of such a lot of fools/ Trying to anesthetize the way that you feel."

Seventeen years later, these words seem truer than ever. That shouldn't be the case, of course: In spite of Denver's relatively modest size, the market supports 45 stations that showcase a seemingly wide range of formats. Unfortunately, the majority of these outlets have precious little of the ingredients that make the best radio such an exciting force: creativity, imagination, energy. As Costello implied almost a generation ago, most broadcasters seem primarily interested in keeping their listeners as dull-witted and compliant as possible.

These conclusions are based on an analysis of all area stations conducted between 7:30 and 8 a.m. weekday mornings May 1 through May 10. The choice of these times was not capricious: Because May is a key month in the determination of ratings--and because Los Angeles's Arbitron ratings service claims that more people in Denver turn on their radios in the half-hour prior to 8 o'clock than during any other portion of the day--this programming block is arguably an outlet's most important. Presumably, then, stations would want to fill these thirty minutes with their very strongest material. And that's what we hoped to hear. We also wished to answer a very simple question: What, exactly, is out there? Even the most dedicated radio-button pushers in the city probably are familiar with only around ten stations--less than a quarter of the choices available. We wanted to know if there are any hidden treasures among the ratings also-rans.

What we discovered, for the most part, was disappointment. Most stations fall into fairly rigid categories. Moreover, we learned that relatively little new music is played in this key period--and that a stunning sexism runs rampant at several of the most prominent outlets (see sidebar). Finally, we were staggered by the number of advertisements aired as part of the average show--as many as fifteen. In many cases, the information you think you're getting on your drive to work is really an infomercial.

Of course, it's impossible to gauge a station's overall quality based on the monitoring of a single segment, even if that segment is heard by more people than any other. Truth be told, there is some good radio in Denver--although a lot of it plays during off-hours or in the middle of the night. Meanwhile, drive time (which, like it or not, serves as an outlet's signature) remains on the road to the lowest common denominator.

Listed below are synopses of the programs we analyzed, along with the dates of their airing. Consider this a warning--or perhaps an incentive to invest in a new CD player for your car.

COUNTRY
You'd think that with six--yep, six--country stations in the area, the entire C&W spectrum would be covered. Think again: Five of these broadcasters specialize in the same brand of crummy, current-hit country. Ty Herndon's "What Mattered Most" and Toby Keith's "You Ain't Much Fun" were spun on two stations, and the Top 10 smashes by John Berry, Sawyer Brown and John Michael Montgomery all turned up. Only one station dared to be distinctive--which is why it was the best of the batch.

KYGO-FM/98.5 (May 8)
Slogan: "Denver's Official Twelve-in-a-Row Hot New Country Station." (While we were listening, the station didn't play twelve-in-a-row of anything.)

DJs: The Waking Crew--Sandy Travis, Chuck Leary and Devera Lynn. Travis and Leary dominate the show, leaving Lynn mainly to cackle at their allegedly riotous routines.

Songs: Four, including Tracy Byrd's puke-inducing "Keeper of the Stars" and Lari White's lachrymose "That's How You Know (When You're in Love)."

Commercials: Nine. Travis and Leary deliver one of these--an ad for Medved Autoplex--live, stretching it out to over a minute in length.

Contests: "The Birthday Game." The first person born on December 1 to call wins $100.

Worst moment: A mock newscast in which President Clinton supposedly orders Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt to fire cattle guards.

KZDG-FM/92.5 (May 8)
Slogan: "Denver's Most Country." (Not quite. The station played two fewer songs than the music leader.)

DJs: Big Ron and Dawn. Ron is cast as the raucous good ol' boy, while Dawn is left to react to his not-all-that-nutty antics.

Songs: Five, with an accent on terrible ballads. Examples: "It's Somewhere Other Than the Night," by Garth Brooks, and Wade Hayes's gooey "I'm Still Dancing With You."

Commercials: Five. Appropriately, a spot hyping beef is aired within thirty seconds of one for Heinz 57 sauce.

Contests: A caller who identifies the word "cry" from the Garth Brooks song noted above gets two passes to see Sesame Street Live.

Worst moment: In honor of "National No-Socks Day," Big Ron supposedly takes off his shoes and socks. Dawn moans and groans.

KUAD-FM/99.1 (May 9)
Slogan: "K-99 Country."
DJs: Gary and Todd. They don't engage in any hilarity. In fact, even they seem somewhat bored.

Songs: Three, including a decent George Strait tune and that awful Ty Herndon cut.

Commercials: Twelve. Since the station is located in Windsor, most of these tout businesses in Fort Collins and Greeley.

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