By Drew Ailes
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By Tom Murphy
Here at Westword, we joke about the so-called Best of Denver curse. The mythology goes something like this: As soon as we give an award to a struggling restaurant, it closes; as soon as we salute an up-and-coming club, it's shuttered; as soon as we praise a television personality, he's handed his hat...and so on. There's virtually no empirical evidence to support this thesis, of course, but there are plenty of anecdotes--like, for instance, the recent sacking of Caroline Corley, whom readers named the best DJ in town at the end of June.
Corley, who helmed the weekday afternoon shift at KTCL-FM/93.3 for the last time on July 24, is a fiery figure: Regular readers will recall her on-air dustup with Keanu Reeves during a promotional tour for his band, Dogstar (Feedback, July 31, 1997). Furthermore, during her program she often referred to Jacor, the Cincinnati-based media giant that's in the process of purchasing KTCL, as "the evil corporate monster"; in a letter to this very publication following our June 25 Best of Denver issue, Corley wrote, "With all the changes going on at KTCL since the evil corporate takeover, it helps to know that there are still fans out there."
Corley may be controversial, but she's also a knowledgeable enthusiast of underground music past and present, as her regular "Presto Requesto" segments amply verified. And because she was one of the very few female jocks in the market allowed to fly a drive-time slot solo, she presented a genuine alternative to the hairy-chested Broncos chatter and/or heavy breathing that's heard on many of KTCL's competitors during the same period. "I always felt that whenever I was on, whether it was going head-to-head with the sports-talking testosterone rodeo or whatever, I could contribute something that was different," she says.
That may sound like an excuse for low ratings, but in this case, it's not. The spring Arbitron book was issued last week, and "I was top five in my key demographic for my day part for the first time in the station's history," Corley points out. That's a jargon-heavy way of saying that Corley's show was one of the programs listeners between the ages of 18 and 34 tuned in to most frequently. While it's debatable whether Corley deserves all the credit for this accomplishment--since KTCL's ratings are up across the board (more on that below)--she was certainly pulling her weight.
So why was she guillotined? Corley says she'd been noticing dark clouds on the horizon for a while; meetings were being held without her, her requests for concert tickets were being turned down, and "they made me into the dub guy, the person who dubs the tapes--which is usually the job they give to the kid with the red paper hat and the pimply face, not the DJ doing afternoon drive." But she insists she still doesn't know precisely why she was canned during a July 25 meeting with Jacor's Don Howe and Tsunami Communication's Tony Galluzzo, the official owner of the station until the FCC okays its sale, which should take place in a matter of weeks. "The basic feeling I get," says Corley, "is that they think I'm an asshole, and I'm not worth keeping in the Jacor community."
If that's the thinking of the Jacor muckety-mucks, they're not telling. Speaking for the company, Mike O'Connor, KTCL's program director, says only, "Our position is that Caroline left the radio station to pursue other endeavors, and we at KTCL wish her the best in her pursuit of those endeavors." When asked to elaborate or to respond to other particulars of Corley's claims, O'Connor replies that the wording of his statement was agreed upon at the July 25 powwow. Corley confirms this, more or less: "I asked them to say that over the air on the Monday after I got fired and to anyone who called asking where I was. Otherwise, people wouldn't have had a clue what happened to me."
O'Connor was considerably more talkative when it came to the topic of KTCL's ratings performance. For the first time in ages, the station managed a 3.0 share among listeners over age 12, and its 6.6 share for those between 18 and 34 was up two full points. Better yet, these numbers were considerably higher than those garnered by KXPK-FM/96.5 (The Peak), which is being targeted by both KTCL and soon-to-be sister station KBCO-FM/97.3--and they've been accompanied by an equivalent improvement in cash flow. "We lost $650,000 last year, and we were lucky if we'd bill $90,000 in advertising a month," O'Connor says. "But now we're closer to $200,000 a month, and we're $100,000 to the good overall. That's not huge money, but it's a big improvement over where we were. Our goal was to justify our continuing existence, and it looks like we'll achieve that goal."
Such success has a price, Corley says. "There's definitely been a shift at KTCL since the days when I could bring records from home and do four hours of 'Presto Requesto,'" she asserts. "They still called what I did 'Presto Requesto,' but what they really did was cut my balls off and put them in a jar on Mike O'Connor's desk. The whole show was completely programmed except for two songs, and they told me what to say and when to say it. They just sucked the groovy right out of the show, and now it's nothing but corporate pablum."