Going Public

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

In addition, greater resources have allowed Colorado Public Radio to refine what's among the most sophisticated fundraising apparatuses in the state. In the late '80s, CPR began following the teachings of David Giovannoni, whose company, Audience Research Analysis, has a contractual relationship with both NPR and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. In essence, Giovannoni argues that public-radio stations should use techniques previously perfected by commercial broadcasters, like focus groups and audience surveys, to determine what listeners want -- particularly those most likely to make contributions. This methodology allows for more effective targeting of potential donors. In the past, insiders say that CPR has addressed mailings to zip codes whose residents have elevated per-capita incomes. Such ploys may not seem in keeping with public radio's most egalitarian ideals, but they sure are smart business.

Wycisk makes no apologies for CPR's Giovannoni-inspired endeavors: "It's very valuable work, and we'll do more of it in the future. But what I've always said is that its job is to give us information, not to determine our programming. The surveys we've done haven't been, 'Should we do this?' or 'Should we do that?' We've just gathered information from listeners in an effort to find out how we can provide the best service." Wycisk adds that CPR has conducted only one survey since the two-channel network came into being -- a questionnaire intended to determine whether classical music in Denver should be placed on FM or AM. Because classical fans had gone ballistic when the original KVOD was switched to AM, the groundswell for FM was inevitable.

More unexpected is CPR's apparent willingness to listen to people who haven't always been in its corner, including members of Citizens for Classical FM, a group that sprang up in the wake of KVOD's displacement. Doug Crane, CCFM's vice president, remembers Wycisk telling his group at an October 2000 meeting that broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera, a KVOD mainstay, would never be heard on Colorado Public Radio -- but tune in to the classical channel on Saturday afternoons between December and April, and there it is. CCFM also grumbled that Colorado Public Radio didn't do enough to promote local music organizations, but of late, CPR has heavily hyped Colorado Spotlight, a program that's featured area organizations such as the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Friends of Chamber Music, Colorado MahlerFest, Opera Colorado and more. On top of that, CPR is sponsoring "Opera 101," a series of free lectures at the Denver Public Library intended to introduce novices to the joys of the genre -- and a previous gathering drew several hundred attendees. The next episode, titled "From Scandal to Smash: Bizet's Carmen," is slated for March 26.

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.

All in all, Crane is pleasantly surprised by the classical wing of today's CPR. "I'd say they're doing better than I would have anticipated -- and in terms of community support, they're exceeding any expectation I probably could have had."

CPR also seems to have addressed another area for which it's been censured in the past: its musical blend. Listeners once complained that the station almost exclusively programmed "classical music's greatest hits" -- the most obvious sections of the most overplayed works. But since the launch of the Classical Public Radio Network and the hiring of London-based artistic director Evans Mirageas, a radio and album producer of international renown, the playlist has deepened and broadened considerably. Crane, for one, feels that CPR has come up with a nice balance between classical's classics and lesser-known pieces. "I don't know if they paid attention to what we told them or not," he says, "but I like what they've done."

For the most part, John Haralson does, too. A boardmember of Colorado Springs's KCME who has sometimes been critical of CPR (but supports the organization as a contributor), he thinks CPR programmers may actually have gone too far in winnowing out musical chestnuts and complains that some more difficult offerings are being played at inappropriate times of the day. But he was pleased that Wycisk recently wrote him a note asking for his opinions about the channel's progress -- something that struck him as a step forward. "Perhaps they really are interested in hearing from a variety of constituencies," he says.

On the news side, Colorado Matters can be seen as a response to gripes about CPR's commitment to local reporting, or lack thereof. The show features five hours of original information per week -- a hefty rise in the amount of time previously devoted to such programming. Moreover, Dan Drayer, the program's executive producer and host, is doing his darnedest to touch as many bases as possible. Over the past few months, interviewees have included an author, a ranch manager, a teacher, a judge, a museum researcher and not one, but two people affiliated with the Fairy Caves, an attraction near Glenwood Springs. "We're really trying to bring a broader perspective of our state to listeners," Drayer points out.

There are tradeoffs, however. In the past, news reports were dropped into programs like Morning Edition, to which oodles of people listen. But now, all of CPR's locally reported product is ghettoized outside of drive time (Colorado Matters runs at 10 a.m., with a repeat at 7 p.m.). Drayer doesn't carp about that -- he says he's thrilled by the support he's received from CPR and feels listeners are finding the program -- and he resists the urge to grouse about his workload, too, even though he'd be more than justified in doing so. Colorado Matters is put together by just four people, including Drayer, who must regularly travel across the state looking for stories. As a result, even tales that aren't completely intriguing are allowed to run on and on and on, because the space has to be filled somehow. Judicious editing of the sort Wycisk prizes would help eliminate the filler, but then the show would be short of content.

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