By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
By Jena Ardell
By Mary Willson
By Bree Davies
College radio has been responsible for the popularization of much of the best pop music over the past couple of decades--yet residents of Denver have virtually no access to such a station. Geographically, the closest college outlet is KUCB, at the University of Colorado-Boulder, but even if you drive past its offices, you won't be able to pick up its signal on your car radio. KUCB is broadcast on a carrier current to CU's dorms--residents can pick it up at 530 AM--and TCI cable subscribers who run a line to their stereo receivers can receive it at 102.1 FM. (KUCB gives away cable splitters to interested parties; call 492-5031 for more details.) Otherwise, folks, you're out of luck.
The situation is much, much brighter in the Western Slope community of Grand Junction, where station KMSA-FM/91.3 (affiliated with Mesa State College) has been on the air for 21 years. For most of that time, KMSA was a fairly well-kept secret in the region, due largely to its anemic 500-watt transmitter; listeners located within Grand Junction city limits could hear it, but the signal began deteriorating rapidly outside that relatively small zone. The situation changed earlier this year, however, after the Federal Communications Commission approved increasing KMSA's power to 3,000 watts. Now the station can be heard all over the rapidly growing Grand Valley and beyond. "We've had people pick us up as far away as Vernal, Utah," says Tracy Fiedler, a KMSA spokeswoman.
The station provides a welcome alternative to Grand Junction's commercial broadcasters, whose often mediocre fare is a microcosm of that available in the Denver-Boulder area. Monday through Friday during the daytime, KMSA offers what Fiedler calls "alternative college rock--but we try to play things that the other stations in town aren't playing." Weekday evenings are filled with specialty shows focusing on styles like rap and reggae; on Saturdays, jocks play metal from dusk to dawn; and Sundays feature jazz and blues programming that's as popular with the community as it is with hep cats on campus. "I've had a lot of people in their fifties tell me how much they like what we play on Sunday," reveals Jerry Weaver, Mesa State associate professor and KMSA's faculty advisor. "And we've had good response from other people as well. I think we have a fairly good reputation in the community, and we provide tremendous training opportunities for our students."
Why doesn't Denver have anything like this? The reasons are difficult to pin down, but one factor is the extremely crowded radio market. According to Leo Cirbo, district director for the FCC's Denver office, although it might be possible for a college to find an open frequency, starting a new station would likely be extremely expensive; moreover, such an outlet probably would be licensed at low power, making the operation even less feasible. Other options are more complex: Cirbo suggests that schools could make agreements to share airtime with existing stations or combine forces with other colleges to purchase a station that transmits outside the non-commercial band (from 88 to 92 FM). "Either way," he notes, "it wouldn't be easy."
Doug Poe, station manager at KUCB in Boulder, knows this all too well. Since the early Nineties, KUCB staffers have been trying to find a way to gain broadcast capability. Two years ago their quest received the support of CU's students, who agreed to pay an extra $1.72 in fees over four years, with the money earmarked to purchase an AM station. Unfortunately, this plan will work only if a station comes up for sale in the Boulder area at a price that KUCB can afford--and with the value of stations escalating, spurred by the recent passage of the telecommunications bill, there's no guarantee of that. "If a station was available now, we would attempt to get a loan of some sort," Poe says. "We're keeping our eyes out, but we just don't know what's going to happen, or when."
KUCB is not quite as adventurous as KMSA. Rather than giving DJs near-total freedom to pick what music they want to play, as KMSA management does, KUCB programmers require most DJs to choose selections from a collection of pre-approved discs. Still, these choices are broader than those at any other commercial rock station. "Aphex Twin will make it into our format," Poe notes. "So will Skinny Puppy." In addition, KUCB schedules specialty shows focusing on styles such as death metal, rap and noise (Poe puts together the last of these). And the station's relaxed, we're-doing-this-because-we-love-music approach is a fabulous tonic to the sound of most other rock broadcasters around here.
It's tough to predict when a sizable number of non-students will get a chance to hear KUCB for themselves--and even if the station does begin broadcasting in the near future, its signal almost certainly won't reach Denver. For the foreseeable future, then, Grand Junction, where I was born and raised, has a significant cultural attribute that the Mile High City does not. How strange.
KBCO-FM/97.3 pulled a particularly cruel prank last Thursday, April 25. Station promos played throughout the week teased that KBCO would cease to exist as of 5 p.m. on that date--and as a dutiful monitor of the scene, I tuned in to hear the introduction of "KDAV: All Dave Matthews, all the time." Yep, it was a gag to promote Matthews's new CD, Crash, as program director Mike O'Connor confessed at 9:30 that night, after four and a half torturous hours of Dave, Dave, Dave. Funny? Sure--and Westword's decision to change its slogan from "Denver's News & Arts Weekly" to "All Dan Quayle, all the time" is hilarious.