The Little Station That Could

Boulder's KGNU finds a way to survive in the cutthroat radio world.

However, recent changes at Pacifica have stirred up controversy at KGNU. A couple years back, the news service, which owns five stations across the U.S., temporarily shut down its Berkeley flagship amid protests over the dismissal of the station manager. Since then, critics on the left have charged it with muzzling its on-air talent, watering down content, mistreating employees and moving away from the sort of volunteerism that KGNU espouses. Things came to a head earlier this month, when picketers called for the resignation of Pacifica chairman David Acosta at a Pacifica Foundation meeting in Houston.

The Pacifica contretemps has led to no shortage of hand-wringing at KGNU. Staffers and listeners particularly prize Pacifica's Democracy Now!, a series hosted by Amy Goodman that KGNU runs weekday mornings at 7 a.m., but many don't want to support a service they see as having abandoned its ideals. Typically, KGNU has chosen to hash out these contradictions in public, asking listeners to weigh in during numerous on-air forums and inviting Goodman, who's objected publicly to many of Pacifica's actions, to appear at a fundraiser for the KGNU Building Fund last weekend.

Meanwhile, Durlin is in the midst of a one-sided negotiation for renewal of the station's contract with Pacifica. She rewrote the agreement to allow KGNU to void it at any time, but received a letter back from Pacifica giving her a deadline of February 28 to sign the standard contract. Durlin reacted by calling Pacifica executives, who haven't yet gotten back to her. "The ball's in their court," she says.

Other fundraisers are on tap for KGNU in the upcoming weeks: The station's next pledge drive begins March 30, and on April 1, the Boulder Theater is staging a benefit for the building fund, starring Tim O'Brien, Darrell Scott and Pete and Joan Wernick. All told, KGNU hopes to raise just over a half-million dollars to go toward its new headquarters, which Durlin thinks should be open for business in mid-April. Among the accoutrements are a studio devoted to live performances to replace what she now refers to fondly as "the concert hallway."

KGNU has taken a long while to get to this point -- and perhaps the station could have gotten there sooner had it taken a more businesslike approach. But Durlin has no regrets. "It's still kind of an experiment, no matter how long you've done it," she says. "But we wouldn't have it any other way."

Students in cyberspace: Like KUNC, KCFR began its life as a college-radio station. It was formed in 1970 as the result of a student initiative at the University of Denver, and it initially beamed out a blend of classical music, freak-out jazz and art rock using a ten-watt transmitter. But three years later, the station boosted its power to 30,000 watts and affiliated itself with National Public Radio. Students unwilling to support such programming promptly voted to stop funding the outlet, and in the early '80s the station's last ties to DU were severed.

Since then, DU hasn't had a student-run broadcast station, but it's now got the next best thing: a student-run Web radio station. KVDU, accessible at kvdu.du.edu, launched on February 21 with a format that includes lots of modern rock, plus hip-hop, punk, dance music and more, more, more.

According to KVDU manager Sarah Fisher, the Internet was chosen because a previous effort to gain approval for a broadcast station ran into endless roadblocks -- not the least of which was a recent congressional ruling that put the kibosh on low-power FM applications in major metropolitan areas. Fortunately, the university's undergraduate senate and student-media board ponied up $10,000 each to put KVDU on the Internet. At this point, Fisher and music manager Jeremiah Hayes are still working out the kinks, but they've got ambitious plans, including live streaming broadcasts from local clubs. Hayes is also trying to beef up the station's local-music library. He encourages area musicians to send their work to him at KVDU, University of Denver, Student Involvement, 2055 E. Evans Avenue, Denver, CO 80208.

Oh yeah: Although both Fisher and Hayes knew that DU once had a radio station, they had no clue that said outlet was KCFR. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The trouble with yakkers: As pointed out here last week, KHOW is now the home of Phil Hendrie, a syndicated talk-show host whose satirical shtick calls for him to interview fictitious, and allegedly wacky, characters whose voices he also provides. (Zzzzz.) What's worse, Hendrie's program is followed by a rebroadcast of the Art Bell show from the previous evening, which then gives way to Bell live. This means that KHOW is now entirely syndicated on weekdays from 5 p.m., when Reggie Rivers signs off, to 5 a.m., when Peter Boyles signs on.

Does this suggest that KHOW has lost interest in providing local talk by local talkers? Program director Elizabeth Estes-Cooper says no, and other station sources imply that the extra dose of Bell is a stopgap measure that will end when a new personality is found. But, since the departure of Jay Marvin in 1999, the station has had the damnedest time finding, nurturing and holding onto new talent. Consider Tom Kamb, who worked the early-evening slot for about a year before fleeing for a job in Dallas. Upon his arrival there in December, he told the Dallas Morning News, "I hated Denver. I hated it. I can't say it any more plainly than that." Kamb subsequently described the city as "cold," "sterile" and "phony."

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