The Old College Try

CU radio thrives on the AM band.

Such benefits are significant, especially these days. Questions of impropriety surrounding CU president John Buechner and his October announcement that he'll be stepping down from his position next year resulted in reams of bad publicity that's unlikely to stop anytime soon. By contrast, Radio 1190 has been a magnet for praise in publications such as the Onion, the Boulder Weekly and the newspaper you're holding, and even scored a laudatory article in the Denver Post last week. Predictably, that piece, penned by Michael Booth, was a doltish exercise riddled with hoary music cliches ("Don't go changin' to try and please me. Don't take those old records off the shelf. Just break on through to the other side..."), and Jim Musil, Booth's primary source, was twice referred to as "Jeff." But Musil doesn't mind. "We've gotten great press," he says, "and I think that's really reassured the university. The biggest fear for them going in, I think, was that we were going to be an embarrassment to them, and we haven't been an embarrassment. Compared to some of the other coverage, we've been a jewel."

Equally successful was Radio 1190's recent fundraiser, in which listeners were induced to "buy watts" in support of the station; the goal of collecting $15,000 was exceeded by more than $6,000. If that rate of growth holds for the next three or four years, Musil believes the station will be able to raise $100,000 annually as a supplement to the budget of approximately $300,000 provided by the university. He also wants to boost the station's power from 5,000 watts to 7,000 watts, and because the $320,000 in student fees set aside earlier this decade can be used for capital improvements, he has the money to do so. "That would really help our signal," he says. "There are some areas, especially in downtown Denver, that are a little weak, and that boost could make all the difference."

Right now, however, students are concentrating on several events celebrating Radio 1190's first birthday. On November 4 and 5, the Bluebird Theater presents "Local Shakedown," a showcase for area acts such as the Kalamath Brothers, the Down-N-Outs, Sarina Simoom and O'er th' Rampart (who appear on the 4th), and Space Team Electra, Munly, Hoochie and the Pin Downs (the stars on the 5th). That's followed a week later by "The Rocky Mountain Pop Fest": On November 12, the Minders, Bright Eyes, Marbles, the Maybellines, Breezy Porticos and Josh Bloom bow at Denver's 15th Street Tavern, and on November 13, the Apples in Stereo, Dressy Bessy, Barcelona, Electrogroup and Mates of State head to Club 156, a Boulder venue at the University Memorial Center, not far from Radio 1190. There's also an increased focus on lining up businesses to sponsor programs -- something that's become easier as the buzz on the station has intensified. "Before, it was almost impossible to sell," says underwriting staffer Nate Harris, another KUCB survivor flourishing at the new station. "But now I hear people talk about Radio 1190 all the time. My attitude is a lot better."

Loki dokey:KVCU drive-time jock Aaron Johnson, aka Loki.
David Rehor
Loki dokey:KVCU drive-time jock Aaron Johnson, aka Loki.

Aaron Johnson's is, too. When he was at KUCB, "it was awful," he says. "No one was out there." But now Johnson, using the air name Loki, has become the best-known member of the staff owing to his drive-time shift, weekdays from 7 to 10 a.m. Still, he's reluctant to commit himself to a career in radio after his graduation next year. "The only way I'd want to do it is if it could be as fun and creative as what I'm doing now." He pauses before noting, "Which probably means I'm not going to."

These kids learn fast, don't they?

Because of its apparent good intentions, most public-service programming receives a free pass from reviewers -- and that was certainly the case with Opening the Door to Diversity: Voices From the Middle School, a program produced by AT&T and Court TV that was beamed from a Denver-area studio to schools and cable systems across the country on October 26. Locally, the show didn't get a critical look but was treated instead as a news event with a notable celebrity quotient -- Court TV's Catherine Crier and Today weatherman Al Roker were the moderators, and President Bill Clinton made a videotaped guest appearance. But while Diversity deserves commendation for touching on topics like peer pressure, cliques and prejudice, it did so in dull and extremely canned fashion; the students seemed extremely rehearsed, often using ten-dollar terms like "desensitized" that don't naturally flow from the mouths of thirteen-year-olds. Crier, for her part, was at her most unctuous, demonstrating absolutely zero rapport with anyone. But worst of all was AT&T's need to constantly advertise its participation. The company's name was on signage that popped up in shot after shot, and real-time linkups with schools in Georgia, Wyoming and Illinois so prominently included its logo that Diversity at times looked like an infomercial for teleconferencing. Good intentions are fine just as long as you keep pushing the product.

No doubt Diversity's genesis and its setting owed something to the Columbine shootings, proving yet again that the story's last chunk of ore has not yet been mined. But reporting about the tale so many months after the fact can have plenty of pitfalls. Examples? When Carla Hochhalter, the 48-year-old mother of paralyzed Columbine survivor Anne Marie Hochhalter, committed suicide in an Englewood pawn shop October 22, staffers at the Denver Post found out about it before her family or others in their community; thus, reporters broke the news to some neighbors, resulting in trauma for all concerned. Six days later, Posters on the Columbine beat met to discuss situations like these -- a welcome attempt to get perspective on a developing story that other news organizations would do well to emulate. The Associated Press, meanwhile, stirred up a great deal of discussion among media types when journalist Steve Gutterman attended Carla Hochhalter's October 26 funeral and quoted from remarks by the pastor overseeing the service even though the Hochhalter family requested that the press keep its distance. Pete Mattiace, the chief of bureau at Denver's AP office, says his people never received notice that the Hochhalters had asked the media to respect their privacy and concedes that he probably would not have sent Gutterman if he'd known. But, he adds, "some people who are private people become public people through no effort of their own. I don't think any reporter wants to intrude, but it was a public place." In this case, staying out of the spotlight, as the Hochhalters have studiously tried to do, is a lot harder than taking center stage.

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