Radio Free Paonia

With $180, Angel Babudro started his own radio station.

The beginnings of WCCR/88.3 FM ("grassroots radio at the bottom of your FM dial") probably can be traced back to Angel Babudro's childhood fascination with radio. But being forcibly banned from KVNF, the public-radio station in the western Colorado town of Paonia, was a crucial factor, too.

Still, that's being negative, which the 34-year-old computer consultant absolutely is not. Chances are very good that he would have gotten around to starting his own station someday; the KVNF conflict just sped things up a little.

"My motivation to do this is my obsession with doing radio," he explains. "I love it, I love it, I love it." Besides, he's not bitter: "I don't use my station to attack KVNF. That doesn't seem tasteful to me."

WCCR's programming is definitely tasteful, even if it does reflect just one man's taste. And it's strictly Babudro's business. Western Colorado Community Radio is one of hundreds of unlicensed stations that are springing up across the country without the government's knowledge or interference. Typically, radio content is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission; indeed, the agency's permission must be gained before a new station can even go on the air. At one-quarter of a watt, however, Babudro's station falls well short of the transmittal power necessary for the FCC to take an interest. (Denver's KOA, by comparison, packs 50,000 watts.) But WCCR is still radio, and Babudro's programming is as idiosyncratic as Babudro himself.

Ever since his homemade station began beaming its weak signal in June, the airwaves in Paonia have been filled with commercial-free cool jazz--Babudro's favorite--during the morning. That changes after lunch. "Around one or two I usually feel like something more upbeat, so I go to light rock," he says. "Or sometimes I'll put in a motivational tape."

At about six in the evening, one of Babudro's unpredictable friends may pop by the converted service station that houses both his office and the one-room WCCR studio to host a show. Even if a guest DJ does happen to show up, listeners never know quite what they'll hear.

"One guy is strictly jazz," Babudro says. "He likes to bring his old saxophone with him. Maybe we'll put a mike out in the middle of the floor, and he'll just walk around with his sax and play. Sometimes he'll bring other people, and they'll play along, too." If no one shows up, Babudro--who has been known to play the flute--pops in another long-running music tape.

Occasionally, in the late afternoon, Babudro will be sitting around the office when a friend will drop by with an article from the newspaper that caught his attention, and they'll discuss it. If things start to get interesting, Babudro will switch on the mike and transmit the conversation to whoever is tuned in. Recent on-air dialogues have focused on celebrity conspiracies--the "apparent murders" of John Denver and Princess Di, for instance.

Around nine or ten in the evening, after he has put his five-year-old son and one-year-old daughter to bed, Babudro himself generally returns to the studio and takes over the mike. He'll spin some jazz or maybe pop in another motivational tape from one of his favorite philosophers, such as Ram Dass or Alan Watts. Sometimes he'll just read a chapter or two from a book or article that he likes.

Babudro's readings tend toward the left, in much the same manner that Rush Limbaugh has been known to lean toward the right. In fact, he has passed several evenings on the air reading entire chapters from the anti-Limbaugh text The Way Things Aren't. Other late-night monologues have included passages from such corporate-conspiracy works as Toxic Sludge Is Good for You and Angels Don't Play This H.A.A.R.P.

So far, it's strictly one-way talk radio. The station simply has not yet been able to afford a telephone, so no on-air banter with listeners is possible.

Babudro signs off when he feels like going to bed, which can run as late as two or three in the morning. Before leaving for home, he slides another VHS tape into the deck--jazz, or another of his philosophical or motivational favorites. It plays until the next morning, when WCCR begins another day.

The number of days that WCCR remains on the air could, in theory, stretch on a very long time. Because Babudro runs the operation by himself and owns the building he beams from, the radio station requires virtually nothing to stay on the air for as long as Babudro wants it there. It is a sort of perpetual motion machine, independent of market forces, government interference or even its listeners.

"We have it on all the time in our computer room," says Nancy Carter, who has lived in Paonia since 1984. "I'm especially interested in the inspirational tapes--things you can't hear on other radio stations, because they take too long." She says she would play it at her chiropractic office, four miles outside of town, but the signal doesn't reach that far.

It is difficult to know for sure how many of Paonia's 1,500 or so residents qualify as listeners. The town, which makes a triangle with Grand Junction to the northwest and Glenwood Springs to the northeast, is still a relatively conservative agricultural center. At one time people moved there for mining or ranching, although these days a family is just as likely to relocate to Paonia for the scenery and quality of life. Babudro moved there for the radio station.

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