By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
Scott Strong, interim program director for KXPK-FM/96.5 (the Peak), says he had been planning to issue a press release announcing his decision to begin broadcasting Howard Stern's radio program on Monday, November 23. However, word of the Stern deal began to leak out the previous Friday, November 20. So why didn't most Denverites learn anything about it until that weekend? Timing had a lot to do with it. Because Westword publishes on Wednesday mornings, I was stuck, and the writers who cover the radio beat at the daily newspapers were delayed as well, because the Friday editions were already on the streets. And while the local television stations had no such excuse, the dirty little fact that TV reporters get many of their ideas by reading the work of their print brethren ensured that most of them wouldn't be able to break the story until someone else had broken it first. But had the on-camera elite been smart enough to sit down at their computers and call up www.denverradio.net, they wouldn't have had to wait so long--because Rob Hatch, who runs the site, had the news up and available for perusing nearly a full day before anyone else.
This is hardly the only scoop Hatch has landed since starting denverradio.net in November 1996. He was the first to tell all when KHOW-AM/630 talk personality Jay Marvin decided to leave Denver for health reasons (a move that's presently on hold due to machinations within KHOW's parent company, Jacor); he outstripped his peers when it came to the Peak's shift to a harder alterna-music format; and he led the pack in regard to Tribune Broadcasting's decision not to air Stern on KKHK-FM/99.5 (the Hawk) only a matter of days before the show's scheduled debut. "That was a big one for me," Hatch says. "They had a meeting at the station at 4:30 in the afternoon with all the personnel, and by 5:00, it was up on my page."
It's not difficult to figure out where Hatch gets much of his information. His site is extremely popular among area radio professionals, many of whom have discovered that denverradio.net almost always provides a gusher of up-to-the-minute data. A particular favorite is a "comments and rumors" section buzzing with the latest industry gossip. Because Hatch doesn't check out the claims submitted for inclusion on the page before posting them, they're not always the gospel truth. In the weeks prior to the marriage of Stern and KXPK, for instance, most of the scuttlebutt about the station concerned reports that it was about to dump its brand-new modern-rock approach in favor of a "classic soul" style known among insiders as "Mega." (The format has been a huge success in markets such as Los Angeles and is likely to wind up in Denver eventually, despite the city's comparatively small urban-radio audience.) "Some of what's up there is misinformation," Hatch admits. "You never know when a program director from one station might put something up there anonymously to try to undermine one of his competitors." But, he adds, "a lot of it is right on the nose." He offers as an example an early-July report that Caroline Corley, a DJ currently working for the Peak, was about to be fired by her then-employer, KTCL-FM/93.3. Two weeks later, she walked out of KTCL's offices carrying her head.
Hatch, who is thirty, understands the ups and downs of the radio game so well because he was once a participant in it. He spent years trying to gain access to a microphone, landing part-time gigs on stations in Chicago and L.A. in the process. By the early Nineties he was a staffer at a Colorado Springs outlet, KIKX-FM/102.7 (the Max), where he oversaw retro-Eighties and industrial shows. (He also spun alternative selections at the Underground Pub, a Springs nightclub.) A lifelong music fan, Hatch was in heaven--but the gigs came to an abrupt end when KIKX was purchased by a company that specialized in Christian radio. The change in sound left Hatch unemployed and disgruntled. "I was tired of the corporateness of radio," he says. "Plus, it didn't pay too well."
A shift in careers and hometowns followed: Hatch moved to Denver in 1996 and entered the computer field. (At present he is working for a firm that builds corporate networks and offers on-site technical support.) But he still loved radio and was disappointed by the reporting about the medium that was being offered by the dailies. "There were a lot of changes going on that left a lot of questions in my mind--and I wasn't getting many answers from the Rocky or the Post," he says. "I think both Dusty Saunders and Joanne Ostrow are limited in their thinking about what's good radio. She seems to stick with the NPR stuff, and he's more attuned to the older demographic."
To fill this niche, Hatch created denverradio.net. At first the site's content was simple: It was dominated by a listing and description of all the stations in the Denver and Colorado Springs markets ("The grids in the dailies aren't always that accurate," he says). But he slowly began adding more features in an effort to better serve radio professionals and fans. "I put up the ratings, and I've got links to any of the 300 or so stations that broadcast on the Web," he says. "And I've got a jobs page where stations can post open jobs and DJs or hosts can post situation-wanted items. I've had quite a few people actually get jobs by doing that. And I'm also looking to put radio air checks on the site in real audio. That way, people from around the country can listen to samples of DJs who might be interested in moving out of the market. And I really try to keep up on the news, because I know that a lot of people check in to see what's going on. If a personality doesn't show up on their station, they'll stop by to find out if they've been fired or whatever, and I always try to find that kind of thing out. I have a lot of friends in the media, and I get e-mails from them practically every day."
Keeping up with this workload isn't easy: Hatch spends about twenty hours a week working on his site, and while he says he receives a great deal of satisfaction from his efforts, he doesn't make much money from it despite a monthly page-view count that regularly exceeds 100,000. "I've got some banner ads up there now, but there's no way I can quit my day job yet," he concedes. Until then, he plans to continue to keep his ear to the ground and his fingers on his keyboard. "With all the acquisitions around here, there's a lot of things happening," he says. "I'm just trying to keep up."
I've got a confession to make: I never go out on New Year's Eve--or at least I haven't done so since that fateful night seven years ago when my car was totaled because of an unpleasant combination of icy roads and a driver more interested in looking at an accident on the other side of Sixth Avenue than in keeping his eye on the road. The incident so traumatized me that I've spent the last night of every subsequent year hiding in my basement and praying that no cars smack into the house. But for those of you braver than me, here are some musical options. Opie Gone Bad visits Herman's Hideaway in the company of Yo, Flaco!, which may or may not have a new lead singer in tow; the Sam Bush Band, with John Cowan and Mighty Squirrel, forages at the Boulder Theater; Tab Benoit cranks out the blues at the Little Bear; the Paladins get rootsy at the Bluebird Theater; the Jazz Crusaders set off on a quest to the Casino; the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band sweeps up at the Grizzly Rose; the Amazing Rhythm Aces play their cards right at the Buffalo Rose; the Healers are the prescription at Jimmy's Grille; and Bill Haley's Original Comets rock around the clock at 9th Avenue West. Or at least until a few minutes after midnight.
Backbeat's e-mail address is: Michael_Roberts@westword.com. While you're online, visit Michael Roberts's Jukebox at www.westword.com.