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At 7 a.m. on Wednesday, November 4, people in Denver and Boulder will find another choice on their radio dials. KVCU-AM/1190 (aka Radio 1190), a new station associated with the University of Colorado-Boulder, is set to make its long-awaited debut at that time--and early indications are strong that the outlet will be worth hearing.
As noted in the March 5 edition of Feedback, it's been a long time coming. A CU station, KUCB-AM, was founded in 1978, but it lacked an important accoutrement--a tower. To explain: Instead of broadcasting its signal with the assistance of a transmitter and an antenna, KUCB used carrier current to feed its output into the school's dormitories via the electrical system. The sound quality that resulted was frequently spotty, and the anachronistic approach so severely limited KUCB's potential audience that students voted in 1994 to establish a fund (fed by student fees) to purchase a broadcast-ready operation. Approximately $320,000 was collected for this purpose, but because the prices of media properties were escalating rapidly, the total still wasn't large enough to cover the cost of a station.
Enter Jacor, the corporate giant that controls some of the most powerful outlets in the area. The firm's decision-makers wanted to purchase KTCL-FM/93.3, but in order to do so without exceeding eight stations in the market (a limit imposed by the Federal Communications Commission), they needed to unload one it already owned, and fast. For this reason, the suits were receptive when CU administrators suggested that Jacor donate to the university the least profitable asset in its Boulder portfolio: KHOW2-AM/1190, a station that had been idle for some time. Early in 1998, the FCC gave its blessing to the deal, which led to good publicity and a healthy tax deduction for Jacor and provided CU with the outlet it had long coveted.
Afterward, debate raged over what kind of station the renamed KVCU-AM would become--a student-run, music-dominated broadcaster or a relatively stodgy training lab/promotional tool. Fortunately, the former option was chosen. "The students decided what our format was going to be," says Andy Larsen, KVCU's program director. "It's not like the journalism school is going to come in and tell us what to play."
The lunatics aren't entirely in charge of the asylum, however: Larsen and other students fill around a dozen management positions at KVCU, but Jim Musil has been hired as general manager to oversee the facility. Musil has experience in such a role. He was a student at the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis earlier this decade when that school obtained a radio outlet, WMMR-AM, and after graduation, he was put on the payroll as what he calls "a full-time radio professional." During the next several years, Musil became something of an expert on how to start up and run a first-rate college station. "Every couple of months, stations would get ahold of me and ask, 'How do you do it?'" he says. When folks at CU made just such an entreaty, he offered advice as well, and a job offer soon followed. Musil accepted, he notes, because "I was ready for a change of pace--and the chance to put together another station is incredible. I really love working with students. They're much more honest than most people in the rest of the industry."
KUCB was not a free-form station: DJs were asked to play songs from a predetermined set of CDs designated for "light," "medium" or "heavy" rotation during about half of an average shift. According to Larsen, KVCU will further tighten this formula. "The music director will pre-program most of the selections," he says, "but DJs will still get to pick some individual songs. Most of the shifts are two hours, and we require DJs to play ten to fifteen of our songs an hour, which leaves six or seven songs per hour that they get to choose."
Not everything on Radio 1190, whose operating hours are slated for 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. seven days a week, will be so rigidly structured: Musil has given the okay to a dozen or so specialty shows--punk, metal and hip-hop are among the genres spotlighted--in which jocks will be allowed to do their own things. Furthermore, Musil believes that the boundaries placed on other programs will allow creativity to flower, not wither. "Most freshmen who come into universities get most of their music knowledge from MTV," he says. "But by giving them some direction, we'll be able to come up with an adventurous playlist."
Jason Mueller, KVCU's music director, shares Musil's sense of purpose. He's been involved in the area music scene throughout his time as a CU student, and he writes a regular column in the Colorado Daily about sounds that echo outside the mainstream. He sees his position at KVCU as a way to extend this mission. "First and foremost, we want to provide something that none of the other stations are providing," he says. "We're going to play a lot of the indie rock that people associate with college radio, but we're also very in touch with the electronic scene--we have a huge library of RPM--and we're going to be playing real hip-hop, not the stuff you hear on that watered-down R&B station in town." A recent playlist put together by Mueller backs up his claims: The station's top thirty brings together a slew of impressive acts that have been strangers to Denver-Boulder airwaves, including Belle and Sebastian, Sunny Day Real Estate, DJ Spooky, Deejay Punk Roc, Modest Mouse, Fuck, Archers of Loaf and the Minders.