By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
As mentioned in this space in our February 26 issue, Jacor Communications recently donated a radio station, KHOW2-AM/1190, to the University of Colorado at Boulder. This transfer is noteworthy if for no other reason than that this area has long been one of the few major urban areas without a widely heard college-radio broadcasting outlet. But what kind of a station this one will become is still up in the air--and a conflict between CU administration and CU students over its eventual makeup remains a real possibility.
Jacor's extravagant bequest was motivated in large part by a Federal Communications Commission regulation that limits companies to a maximum of eight outlets in a given market. Since Jacor already owned that many signals in the Denver-Boulder corridor, its decision to snap up another (KTCL-FM/93.3) required it to unload one of its previous acquisitions--and KHOW2, an unprofitable Boulder facility with a modest power rating (5,000 watts during the day, considerably less at night), quickly became the leading candidate for jettisoning. By presenting it to the university, Jacor received three immediate benefits: the ability to quickly secure the license to KTCL, which has a greater financial upside than does KHOW2; some good press (which, in this case at least, is deserved); and, not coincidentally, a sizable tax deduction.
CU is also a big winner in the deal, which solves a problem that has been brewing for years. Radio stations at colleges are not a new idea: The University of Denver put up an AM signal way back in 1947 (it went dark in 1971) and in 1970 created an FM outlet that eventually became KCFR-FM/90.1, the flagship of the Colorado Public Radio juggernaut. But CU, for reasons that are unclear, never truly got into the radio game. In 1978, a university-funded station, KUCB-AM, came to life, but the system by which its programming was dispatched was antiquated even then. Rather than using a transmitter and an antenna to reach the public, KUCB employed carrier current--meaning that its signal, on 530 AM, was carried to the dormitories (and only the dormitories) over the electrical system. The station can also be received at 102.1 FM by Boulderites whose stereos are hooked up to cable; KUCB, reachable at 492-5031, gives away stereo splitters that make this possible to anyone who requests one.
The technology was far from foolproof. In 1993, Stephanie Escher, then the resident advisor at Hallette Dormitory, told Westword that no one at her housing unit could receive KUCB. Around the same period, Brad Dempsey, a representative-at-large for CU's legislative council, made a stir by suggesting that funding for the station be eliminated because so few students even knew that KUCB existed. Station boosters countered by conducting a survey showing that students were willing to pay slightly higher fees in order to obtain a transmitter that would make KUCB accessible to them. (For more details, see "To Air Would Be Divine," March 3, 1993.)
The following year, CU students voted overwhelmingly in favor of a referendum that set aside $1.72 per enrollee each year for four years, with the total earmarked for the purchase of a transmitter. Over $320,000 was collected, but it wasn't enough: Back in 1994, a KUCB spokesman estimated that it would take $500,000 to buy a station, and prices have risen steadily since then. For this reason, CU administrators began to explore ways of convincing radio conglomerates with stakes in Colorado to give them a station they no longer needed. Says Willard Rowland, dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at CU, "We talked not only with Jacor, but with some of its predecessors, like Noble Broadcasting"--a San Diego firm that eventually sold four Colorado stations to Jacor. "It's been in discussion on and off for years."
The conversations got more serious in spring 1997, when Jacor began looking for ways to add KTCL to its portfolio. Matters were finalized during the summer, and the FCC gave its blessing around the beginning of 1998. (The license is now in the possession of a university entity, the CU Foundation.) Around the same time, a committee was formed under Rowland's authority to determine the station's future. Its members, who include current KUCB staffers and folks from CU's administration and faculty, were then split into three subcommittees on governance, budget, programming and the like.
The reports from these subcommittees haven't been completed, but, Rowland says, "it's fair to say that we want the station to have three purposes. One is to provide students with an opportunity to receive education about radio--and as a sidebar, I should note that, in addition to formal curriculum activities of the sort that we have in other areas of broadcasting and media at the school, students who are not majoring in journalism or education will also have an opportunity to participate. The second is service to the community reached by the signal. And the third is to provide a set of services that reflect the best of the University of Colorado. We might air distinguished lecture series or non-revenue sports that otherwise never get any kind of exposure."
These goals suggest that university administrators want to be heavily involved in determining the station's direction--and if that's the case, it may set up a classic conflict with students. When students gain the upper hand in such scraps, the stations that result generally are dominated by underground music that can't be heard on commercial outlets; examples range from Los Angeles's venerable KXLU-FM to KCSU-FM, affiliated with Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Conversely, victories by universities can lead to stations like KUNC-FM, a conduit to the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley that mixes news with music that falls into genres, such as classical and new age, that don't top the average student's hit parade.