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Anchor in Waiting

Sportscaster Les Shapiro is rested and ready. But will TV take him back?

The place that's likeliest to happen is Channel 31, where former Bronco David Treadwell has turned out to be an outright catastrophe; his writing and delivery are somewhere between amateurish and abysmal, and he continues to look uncomfortable on the air, especially when conversing with sportscaster-turned-news-anchor Ron Zappolo, who seems much better informed about area squads than he is. Shapiro declines to talk about Treadwell specifically, but he does say that he'd love to work with Zappolo again (they were together at Channel 4 for several years). He acknowledges that his relationship with Zappolo was once marked by "an underlying tension that I think was a product of both of us being so competitive; something nasty was said here, something nasty was said there. But I think Ron and I are both professional enough to know that if we were ever to be on the same team again, we'd get along just fine."

He uses different descriptors when talking about his last few years at Channel 4. Ratings there began to tumble after a mid-'90s affiliate switch to CBS, and even though much of this dropoff can be attributed to weaker lead-in programming, the network demanded cost cuts that resulted in a purge of veteran talent; correspondents such as Jim West and Tom Martino, also now at Channel 31, vanished, and a move to ease out anchor Bill Stuart was dropped only after word that he was being treated for depression associated with his coverage of the shootings at Columbine threatened to turn into a public-relations bloodbath.

In their place, Shapiro notes, Channel 4 "hired a lot of young, inexpensive reporter and anchor talent that was embarrassing on the air and lent to a deterioration of the product." And he let people know he felt that way. "That's probably one of the reasons I got fired," he goes on. "Admittedly, I probably gave my opinion far too much, because I was upset with the product we were putting on the air. It was vastly inferior to what we had been doing in the late '80s and early '90s.

"This market still puts out a fairly good TV news product, and I think it's still better than in most major TV markets," he notes. "But it's not what it used to be, and it's getting worse by the month."

Nonetheless, Shapiro recently, and reluctantly, gave his agent permission to circulate his tapes outside the area "to see what else is out there." But he insists that he'll be very picky, and if the situation isn't suitable, he'll walk away, perhaps for good. "The way things are going, I don't know that I want to go back into TV news. I just don't know."

Empire building: Last week, Colorado Public Radio, the ever-growing network overseen by the ambitious Max Wycisk, attempted to add another pelt to its belt by acquiring KUNC-FM, a station long part of the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. Such a purchase makes sense business-wise, given CPR's long-stated goal of instituting a statewide two-channel system, with one devoted to news and the other to classical music; not only does KUNC have broad reach in northern Colorado, thanks to a power rating of 100,000 watts (it booms into Boulder and Denver's northern suburbs and can be heard as far south as Castle Rock), but it also sports a system of translators that brings it into communities such as Vail. Yet the free ride initially given the proposal by most Denver media types is growing costlier by the minute, as KUNC boosters, including former hostage Tom Sutherland, stage a frantic effort to prevent their favorite station from becoming another cog in Wycisk's wheel.

CPR's best buddy in its efforts has been former senator turned UNC president Hank Brown. Among his first acts upon taking the university helm in July 1998 was putting KUNC on the block, but initial sales attempts generated no offers. The next February, Brown's minions told station manager Neil Best and KUNC's paid staffers, who currently number fourteen, that direct university funding would be phased out over the next four years. However, listeners to the station, which melds public-affairs programming from National Public Radio and other sources with a "diverse music" mix of jazz, folk and classical, reacted to the edict by opening their wallets. By July 2000, KUNC had weaned itself entirely from the university's contributions (other than in-kind allotments covering such items as office space and accounting) and was building an endowment fund that Best hoped would lead to complete independence.

But Brown's forces were impatient, and when CPR officials made contact in December regarding a possible sale, negotiations quickly got serious. UNC eventually agreed to unload the outlet for the unbelievable bargain price of $1.3 million -- less than one-third of what CPR recently paid to get 1340 AM, a Denver outlet with an iffy signal and a power rating of just 1,000 watts. (Most news agencies have reported that CPR must also fork over $600,000 for the endowment fund, but that's more of a bookkeeping matter than anything else. Since CPR would swap $600,000 of its own cash for an equal amount in the fund, it would incur no additional expenses.)

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