Dialing for Differences

Three new stations attempt to woo audiences turned off by Denver radio.

By the standards of today's radio industry, where every nanosecond has a dollar sign attached to it, Brown's statement borders on heresy. But this willingness to reject conventional wisdom is a big reason why Dobbs is on board. After serving as a correspondent for ABC Television from 1969 to 1992, Dobbs was hired by KOA to helm an 8 p.m.-to-midnight shift weeknights on the station. He enjoyed the experience, but after six years of juggling a late-night commitment with his own video-production business, he went off the air voluntarily. Just over a year ago, he gingerly re-entered the media fray by accepting an invitation from Rocky Mountain News editor John Temple and editorial page editor Vince Carroll to write a biweekly media column for the paper. Dobbs was happily doing so when he was asked to consider joining the KNRC squad. He didn't take much convincing.

"They said they wanted to find a niche between NPR, which is substantive radio but not all that dynamic, and the Clear Channel offerings, which are dynamic but, in their opinion, not as substantive as they wanted it to be," Dobbs remembers. "And I loved the idea."

Taking the position meant giving up the News gig. "When John and Vince first called me, they said, 'We'd like you to do it because you're above the fray. You're no longer a talk-show host or reporter, so you'll be almost above criticism,'" Dobbs remembers. "But now I'm back out there again, making my own mistakes twenty hours a week, so I'm not in the same position anymore."

Sentenced to the chair: Greg Dobbs is KNRC's morning man.
Brett Amole
Sentenced to the chair: Greg Dobbs is KNRC's morning man.

From an ideological perspective, Dobbs feels he leans a bit to the left, but he has many other viewpoints that don't fit typical definitions of liberalism. For instance, he's extremely pro-death penalty, declaring, "I would fry everybody who commits murder."

For Alan Eisenson, KNRC's program director, this blend of opinions reflects the equilibrium he hopes to strike at the station. "We want to be seen as fair and balanced, and provide a mix of views," he says. "We don't want to have a specific political agenda."

In this respect, KNRC largely succeeds: Although there are more hosts on the left side of the continuum (Goldstein and Lionel lead the pack) than the right (O'Reilly and Ingraham fly this banner), the range is much wider than at most talk stations, where the content is often either conservative or ultra-conservative. Items of specific interest to African-Americans are tougher to find, despite pledges made earlier this year to pay special attention to the community previously served by KDKO. Jim "Daddio" Walker, KDKO's owner, inked a three-year, $295,000 contract as a consultant to the station, but the regular weekday talent lineup is overwhelmingly white, and the approach has been, too. Also unfulfilled thus far is Brown's desire to partner with a local publication -- a goal spelled out in the "Newspaper" part of his firm's name. Negotiations to establish a formal relationship with the Denver Newspaper Agency, the business entity that represents the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News, fell through.

The station will likely get the time it needs to fully evolve, thanks to the piles of dough behind it. At present, ads touting KNRC are running in Anschutz-owned movie theaters, and a major marketing campaign is slated for next month -- a move that should let a few more people know it exists. But Brown isn't expecting a fast groundswell of support. "We picked the most expensive format to go into," he acknowledges. "Talk radio is expensive, news talk in particular is very expensive, and building an audience takes time. We expect that it will take us three to five years to get to where we want to be."

And if all goes well, Brown sees KNRC as the first of as many as 24 similar stations across the country. "The biggest hurdle we're going to encounter is the shortage of properties that are for sale," he says. "The big groups have bought most of them, so we'll be forced to buy the bad house on the nice block and then fix it up, which is what we're in the process of doing with 1510. We've improved things a lot, but we have a long way to go."

At least they seem to be heading in the right direction.

Waves of the past -- and the future: The state of music-oriented radio may be drearier than that of its gabbier cousin; even Brown has trouble listening to it. He reveals that the only song-based station he enjoys is Radio 1190, the wonderful University of Colorado outlet. Underlining his against-the-grain instincts, Brown says he'd like to bring some qualities of this college broadcaster to KNRC.

Dan Michaels, program director of the Mountain, which has taken over the 99.5 FM dial position previously occupied by the Hawk, doesn't make comments that are quite as surprising -- which is understandable, because the Mountain specializes in classic rock, a format about as radical as an episode of Touched by an Angel. But in a more subtle way, his vision for the Mountain also reflects discontent with what the medium has become.

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