By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
Keeping up with the doings of Colorado Public Radio (CPR) is like tracking a major corporation in a perpetual acquisition mode. The statewide system of stations, overseen by Max Wycisk and run from the Denver offices of KCFR-FM/90.1, is forever looking for ways to add members to its family, whether or not the communities involved are already being served by public-radio signals. A couple of examples of this phenomenon were discussed in this space last year (Feedback, February 7, 1996): CPR purchased KERP-FM/91.9 in Pueblo without consulting with Max Valdez, station manager of a Colorado Springs-based public station, KRCC-FM/91.5, that had been beaming into the city for years. According to Valdez, he called Wycisk to discuss the move--and Wycisk responded by issuing a proposal to take over KRCC, too.
Valdez and KRCC chose to decline Wycisk's offer, but that doesn't mean CPR has put growth on the back burner. At present the network is in the midst of trying to supplement its current lineup of four stations (KCFR, KPRN-FM/89.5 in Grand Junction, KPRE-FM/89.9 in Vail and the Pueblo outlet, now known as KCFP-FM/91.9). It wants to add a new station in the Roaring Fork Valley near Glenwood Springs, a second station in Grand Junction, and translators in Cortez and Trinidad, whose construction was reportedly spurred by the efforts of residents in those communities. Furthermore, Wycisk concedes that CPR recently considered making a run at a construction permit owned by Colorado State University in Fort Collins before backing away from the deal. In short, CPR is maintaining a feverish level of activity, especially when you consider that a sizable number of Congressional representatives have been lobbying for the complete elimination of funding for public broadcasting. CPR adversaries, meanwhile, continue to imply that Wycisk's methods are wasteful, unnecessary and directly contradict one of public radio's most important missions--to produce eclectic local programming that stands as an alternative to the fare presented by commercial stations.
The Roaring Fork Valley move is vigorously opposed by staffers at KAJX-FM in Aspen and KDNK-FM in Carbondale, who say that their stations will be decimated if CPR is allowed to put down roots in the area. Specifically, CPR has filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to build a station on Sunlight Mountain outside of Glenwood Springs that would broadcast at 88.9 FM. If the FCC approves this request, however, a translator system that brings KAJX into Glenwood Springs and outlying communities like El Jebel would become largely obsolete. Just as important, KAJX (which mixes information with classical music and jazz) and KDNK (a blend of news and music of practically every description) would be put in the position of fighting for donations with CPR, a much larger and better-funded operation that is dominated by a classical-music approach that many critics describe as overly slick.
Already, CPR's methods have ruffled the feathers of Allen Scott, KDNK's general manager. "They send out these solicitation letters that intimate that if you are listening to NPR's All Things Considered or Morning Edition, then you're probably hearing it on CPR," he says. "But if you're listening to those programs in the Roaring Fork Valley, you're listening to them on KDNK or KAJX. It's a deceptive practice, and while CPR indicated that they would consider changing the wording of those letters, they haven't done it."
Bill Humphreys, general manager of KAJX, is doubtful about CPR's commitment to the communities outside its Denver base. "We do a lot of public-service announcements that are apropos to what is going on in our valley, but CPR hardly runs any PSAs, let alone providing any local coverage of events going on here," he says.
Such complaints are common among CPR haters--and so is the rumor that CPR refuses to air PSAs submitted by any nonprofit group that doesn't pay underwriting rates to the network. Wycisk denies this claim and urges organizations throughout CPR's listening area to submit announcements. "What happens in Grand Junction is every bit as important as what happens here," he says.
Despite reassurances such as these, a significant number of public-radio fans and supporters remain leery of Wycisk. When he traveled to Glenwood Springs in February to present his argument in favor of expanding CPR into the Roaring Fork Valley, he was greeted by a mob of folks who disagreed with virtually all of his points. Wycisk does not seem especially concerned by this response, stating that "the reaction is not coming from listeners or potential listeners--it's coming from people who are involved at other existing stations." But the commissioners of Pitkin County, where the station would be built, were so concerned about the possible negatives surrounding a CPR presence that in March they filed an application with the FCC for the same frequency Wycisk covets. This preemptive strike will probably delay the appearance of any outlet at 88.9 FM for months, perhaps years. But CPR is definitely not planning to wave the white flag. "We feel that multiple signals in an area reinforce one another--they don't subtract from one another," Wycisk states. "And we've heard from people in Glenwood Springs and other communities who want CPR to be part of their broadcasting mix."