Going Public

Colorado Public Radio is selling itself as a kinder, gentler network. But its critics aren't buying it.

KSUT executives next went to the editorial board of the Durango Herald, the community's daily newspaper. The session prompted an editorial that concluded, "Tell CPR to take a hike -- and don't forget, it's an election year. Our congressman just might like to hear about an issue that pits the citizens of his district against an intruder." As a capper, KSUT looked up the mailing addresses of everyone on CPR's board of directors and sent each a letter from the chairman of the Southern Ute Tribal Council. "I was fairly certain that Max's board had no knowledge of KSUT or that we were tied to a sovereign nation," Warren says. "And we wanted to communicate that to them directly."

There's no telling how much of an impact this tack had. But CPR lowered its profile in Durango, and even though its application before the FCC remains active, Sean Nethery, CPR vice president of communications and marketing, says this won't be the case for much longer. Educational Communications of Colorado Springs, a religious broadcaster, had applied for a frequency in the Roaring Fork Valley that conflicted with CPR's -- so in exchange for pulling out of the Aspen area, CPR has agreed to give ECCS its frequency in Durango.

The other sizable population center in Colorado that CPR has yet to tap is Colorado Springs, a city that already receives much of the programming featured on the two-channel system. KRCC, a public-radio station licensed to Colorado College, broadcasts all of NPR's biggies, including All Things Considered, Fresh Air and Car Talk, interspersed with specialty shows and contemporary music. "When the Grammy nominees are announced," says KRCC's Mario Valdez, "our staff actually knows who they are." Covering the other base is nonprofit KCME, which also reaches Cañon City, Florence, Salida and Manitou Springs via translators and is dominated by classical music. "KCME has been here since 1979, and we serve the community -- the local arts community," declares Jeanna Waring, KCME's general manager. "We are staffed by real people 24 hours a day, and our roots go deep. So my question to people is, how much do they think that CPR is going to serve the community by just importing satellite programming? Because that's not my idea of localism and serving the community. If you believe that, I've got a bridge I'd like to sell you."

Tavis Coburn
Sound off: Meet Colorado Public Radio's Max Wycisk, captain of the airwaves.
Anthony Camera
Sound off: Meet Colorado Public Radio's Max Wycisk, captain of the airwaves.

Despite such vehement opposition, Colorado Public Radio has made a number of attempts to get into the Colorado Springs market, most of them covert. Wycisk confirms that over the years he's had several chats with representatives of Colorado College, which his daughter attended, regarding the availability of KRCC. "Their answer was, 'We're doing just fine,'" he says.

During the second half of the '90s, Wycisk also had dialogues with representatives of KEPC-FM, a station owned by Pikes Peak Community College, which uses it as a teaching tool -- and he got the same sort of disinterested retort. But now, even as CPR's Nethery swears that Colorado Public Radio hasn't sniffed around the Springs in ages, numerous well-placed sources say renewed contact was made last summer, with one person having heard tell that a broker representing Colorado Public Radio made inquiries as recently as last month.

These reports cannot be confirmed, and neither can speculation that CPR is considering buying an AM station that it could keep or swap for KEPC. George Sanchez, spokesman for Pikes Peak Community College president Joseph A. Garcia, says a call regarding the availability of KEPC from person or persons unknown was received in August, but it was forwarded directly to the broadcasting department, whose spokesmen decline comment.

In addressing the topic, Wycisk says no recent conversations with the college have taken place, and he denies that CPR is hungry for a place in Colorado Springs to call home.

"In Colorado Springs, there's KCME, a full-time jazz and classical station, and KRCC, which doesn't do local and regional news but brings in a lot of NPR programming. And that's a major service," Wycisk says. "The question is, is there a reason for Colorado Public Radio to be there? And if there is, it might be in the form of some of our programming appearing on a station not owned by us. The main thing is to get important information to people. But there's no reason for Colorado Public Radio to be in Colorado Springs to broadcast All Things Considered."

Reassuring words -- but KRCC's Valdez isn't convinced. "They're always looking to try and find ways to get into the Springs," he says. "They just don't always say so."

Why is it important that Colorado Public Radio get bigger? In Wycisk's view, such increases guarantee that more people benefit from CPR's programming and create opportunities to improve and extend the programming itself. But there are plenty of other possible reasons, many of them having more to do with financial realities than benevolence.

For one thing, size protects against the possible elimination of funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting -- an oft-stated goal of conservative politicians. CPR gets a considerable chunk of change from this source, just over $450,000 last year. But this constitutes only 7 percent of its budget. Smaller stations are much more dependent on federal monies: KSUT's Warren says 35 percent of her station's revenue comes courtesy of the government. If elected officials think too many people have their hands out (a scenario that could happen if Wycisk's dream of multiple stations in every locality comes true), they may turn off the tap. While CPR is positioned to overcome a setback like this, other outlets might not be.

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