By Noah Hubbell
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Alex Distefano
By Darryl Smyers
By Jon Solomon
By Britt Chester
KTCL-FM/93.3, which makes a couple of appearances in this week's article about Denver radio (see page 73), has spent much of the Nineties as the butt of criticism. Back in the day, the outlet took chances with its music, introducing area listeners to exciting alternative acts they might otherwise never have gotten a chance to hear. But over the last five years, the station has deteriorated. The format has been fiddled with so often that every day seems to bring with it a new sound. As a result, KTCL has lost its edge--and much of its audience. For this reason, news that the station's been taken over by Jacor Communications Inc., the Cincinnati-based media giant that already exerts a tremendous influence over what Denverites hear, is not exactly a surprise. What remains to be seen, however, is whether these changes will return KTCL to glory or doom it to least-common-denominator mediocrity.
Some background is in order. KTCL has always characterized itself as one of the last of the independents--a station that was not simply a cog in a giant corporate machine. But lately that claim has seemed a bit suspect. The outlet was purchased in July 1995 by Denver-based Tsunami Communications, a firm whose head, Tony Galluzzo, had previously been associated with Jacor. (Prior to founding Tsunami, Galluzzo was part of Critical Mass Media, a Jacor-owned research company.) Shortly after the deal was finalized, Jacor took over sales responsibilities for KTCL via a local marketing agreement, and the station's studio was relocated to the Jacor offices in downtown Denver, even though its ostensible home remained in Fort Collins. Moreover, KTCL jocks began turning up on other Jacor signals; an example was Bret Saunders, who abandoned the morning shift at KTCL to assume similar duties at KBCO-FM/97.3. Jacor's Mike O'Connor, who is now program director for both KTCL and KRFX-FM/103.5 (The Fox), insists that Jacor hasn't been calling the shots at KTCL: "There are Justice Department restrictions against that," he says. But outsiders began to regard KTCL as little more than a Jacor farm team.
The relationship between Jacor and KTCL was finally clarified this month, when Jacor bought Tsunami, whose assets consisted primarily of KTCL and KIIX-AM, a tiny broadcaster in Wellington, near Fort Collins. The deal involved a reported payment of $500,000 and the assumption of more than $5 million in debt. But more than money was needed to make the transaction a reality. The Federal Communications Commission restricts companies from owning more than eight stations in a single market, and Jacor already held the titles to that number of facilities in Denver: KHOW-AM/630, KOA-AM/850, KTLK-AM/760, KHIH-FM\95.7, KRFX, KBCO, KBPI-FM/106.7 and KHOW2-AM/1190 (formerly KBCO-AM). In order to abide by FCC regulations, then, Jacor decided to donate KHOW2 to the University of Colorado-Boulder, which has been seeking a broadcast-ready station for several years. (Look for more details on the CU connection in a future column.) Once KHOW2 was out of the picture, the FCC gave Jacor permission to take over the programming of KTCL under the provisions of a time brokerage agreement. O'Connor expects the FCC to make the transferral of KTCL's license to Jacor official in approximately ninety days.
KTCL promotions director Hyle White and creative-services department chief Mark Coulter were disappeared as soon as Jacor took over, as was longtime program director John Hayes. The duties of these former staffers have already been assigned to current Jacor employees; in addition to their current tasks, the Fox's Roger King and Garner Goin are handling KTCL's promotions and creative services, respectively, while O'Connor has stepped into Hayes's loafers. O'Connor describes these moves as cost-cutting measures. "Basically, KTCL was operating at a substantial loss. The figure that it was in the red last year was in excess of $600,000. Now, to be honest with you, part of that figure was the fee we had to pay Tsunami to run the sales department. But there's no question that KTCL was bleeding substantially, and Jacor has to do something about that."
At present, there are no plans to axe members of KTCL's on-air staff; on the contrary, DJs are being urged to fill middle-management positions at the station. Caroline Corley, who caused a stir last year because of her saucy treatment of visiting actor/musician Keanu Reeves (see Feedback, July 31), is already serving as interim music director, and the nighttime jock known as F has been put in charge of KTCL's Web projects. "The modifications we plan to make right now are minimal," O'Connor declares. "We have no plans to do anything like bring in a wacky morning team. You won't hear Howard Stern on KTCL. We want to uphold KTCL as a music-intensive alternative station and at the same time get it in synch with KBCO and KBPI. Before, we couldn't do anything about playlists that might cross over from one station to the other, but now we can work on making sure that KTCL has a separate identity."
By the same token, no one seems ready to pour cash into KTCL--and since the station garnered an anemic 1.9 share during the most recent Arbitron ratings survey, that makes the order to turn the operation around a tall one. O'Connor is hopeful that things can improve, but he stops well short of issuing a guarantee. "I believe that, financially, KTCL is a feasible station," he says. "I'm confident that we can improve the ratings a little bit, and running the station a little leaner will help. Plus, we're in the concert business now; we're already in the process of lining up bands for our Big Adventure concert in late May. So I think we can make a go of it as an alternative station targeting the 18-to-35 set. But, of course, if we lose another half a million dollars this year, we may have to revisit that."