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By Melanie Asmar
Many old-timers believe that radio's golden age took place during the '30s and '40s, when high-quality dramas, serials and variety shows filled the schedule and television had not yet taken hold of the popular imagination. Baby boomers, meanwhile, are generally divided over whether the medium was at its best during the '50s, when Top 40 hits and speed-rapping DJs dominated the AM dial, or the late '60s, when FM's open frontier led to the development of wildly creative free-form broadcasts that are remembered fondly to this day.
Because he's only 24 years old, Jon-Michael DeShazer can't really weigh in on this debate. But he knows one thing for certain: Today's radio, particularly in the Denver area, is incredibly lousy and unlikely to improve anytime soon.
"Every time I listen, it seems to get worse," DeShazer says. "And most of the people I talk to feel the same way: They think there are too many commercials, [stations] never play any of the music they listen to, and the songs they do play are played over and over again. But most of them are passive listeners, so they don't complain. And I think it's about time somebody did."
As it turns out, DeShazer's griping goes well beyond a nasty voice-mail or e-mail message left for unsuspecting general managers. He makes his living as an accountant for a wholesale flower company in Commerce City, but he's also a self-proclaimed "computer geek" who's majoring in network engineering at Red Rocks Community College. And while he hasn't completed enough credits to graduate quite yet, he's already putting his skills to good use on a protest site he oversees, memorably dubbed DenverRadioSucks.com.
The project is "my way of letting radio stations know there's a problem," DeShazer allows. "But I also want it to be a source of education about the radio industry."
He succeeds on both counts. Some of the material on the site, like a section devoted to essays by frustrated radio lovers, can be described as simple ranting. But that doesn't make the best of the submissions any less entertaining. A case in point is DeShazer's list of Denver's most overplayed songs, topped by Nickelback's "How You Remind Me" ("A repetitive, mind-numbing piece of garbage"), Staind's "It's Been a While" ("This is a prime example of a hardcore band changing its sound to make more money"), Lifehouse's "Hanging by a Moment" ("Creed wearing different clothes") and the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Under the Bridge" ("The song was popular 10 years ago, 10 YEARS AGO!!! They've been around for twenty years, and this is all you will play?").
In addition, DeShazer includes references to articles about the growth of radio giants such as Texas-based Clear Channel; a link to an even more extensive archive, www.ClearChannelSucks.org; contact information for assorted elected officials and commissioners with the Federal Communications Commission; and text suitable for e-mailing that decries the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which led to the current wave of radio consolidation. As a bonus, DeShazer touts music sources worth supporting, including a slew of streaming-audio Internet sites and five terrestrial broadcasters in the immediate area: public radio signals KGNU, KUVO and Colorado Public Radio's KCFR; Colorado Springs's KCME, a commercial specializer in classical sounds; and the University of Colorado's terrific entry, KVCU/Radio 1190.
DeShazer, who DJs for parties on the side, is also a supporter of KXDC, a dance-and-electro outlet at 102.1 FM ("Dialing for Differences," July 18). Because the station has not yet launched a Web site of its own, DeShazer posted its playlist on DenverRadioSucks.com, leading some of the several hundred visitors he attracts each month to conclude that he's affiliated with KXDC. To squelch this confusion, he's placed a disclaimer on his home page. "I just wanted to let people know they were worth listening to," he says.
A Denver resident since age four, DeShazer grew up with a unique perspective about radio. His father, Mike DeShazer, is "a folk musician along the lines of James Taylor or John Denver" who couldn't get the time of day from most local stations. Young Jon-Michael found himself drawn to the airwaves anyhow, first falling for KBCO in the days before it was part of the Clear Channel combine ("It was great to hear such a wide variety of music") and later being wowed by 92X, a hard-rock outlet that came and went during the '90s. "I was introduced to 92X when I was sixteen or seventeen, and for me, it really opened my eyes to what a radio station could be," he says.
When 92X perished, he turned to alternative-rocking KTCL but became increasingly disgruntled after it was brought under Clear Channel's thumb. "It used to be where it was rare to hear the same song twice in the same day," he recalls. "But a couple years ago, I heard the same Rage Against the Machine song three or four times in a five-hour period."
On that occasion, DeShazer sent a letter to KTCL management. But he discovered a splashier way of making his opinions known after stumbling upon DenverRadioSucks.com. The site was the work of Chris Lindley, whom DeShazer describes as "a graduate from CU who was really into the indie-rock movement and college radio." Lindley put together the site in early 2001, inspired in part by SanDiegoRadioSucks.com, based in the country's most Clear Channel-heavy market. As in Denver, Clear Channel owns eight stations in San Diego -- the maximum allowable under current FCC rules. But it also holds the deeds to five stations just over the Mexican border, all of which boom into San Diego. That makes thirteen Clear Channel outlets in the area, and one report says the company rakes in nearly half the market's advertising revenue.
SanDiegoRadioSucks.com is working fine now, but it was recently down for several weeks -- and DenverRadioSucks.com founder Lindley understands how difficult it is to keep such an enterprise afloat. After about a year of operation, he posted a message telling fans that he could no longer devote the necessary hours to the undertaking and asked if anyone would be willing to take it over from him. DeShazer immediately volunteered.
Lindley is still involved with DenverRadioSucks.com, which remains on his server. But since January, DeShazer has been in charge of content, and among the upgrades he's making is the launch of DRS Radio, a Web radio station accessible on the site. Starting such a venture now would seem risky, given the announcement of royalty rates that have the potential to put hundreds of program providers out of business ("Digital Dilemma," May 2). But DeShazer was emboldened by a recent compromise between the Recording Industry Association of America and an advocacy group called Voice of the Webcasters. A bill formalizing the RIAA-VOW deal was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last week, and observers who see it as a modest improvement over previous legislation hope it will win approval from the Senate and, ultimately, President George W. Bush, in the not-too-distant future.
According to DeShazer, DRS Radio will be a forum for local musicians -- the new-generation equivalents of his father. To that end, he invites any and all Colorado performers to "send me their MP3s, so I can play them all day and let people know how much great music there is around here.
"That's the kind of thing Denver radio stations should be doing," he continues. "I look at a band like Big Head Todd and the Monsters, which KBCO played a lot when they were starting out, and that really helped them make it. Stations don't do that kind of thing anymore -- which is another reason why Denver radio sucks."
Synchronicity: The Denver Post's Woody Paige claims to have been fired by "six television stations and sixteen radio stations" during his years covering sports in this fair city -- a proud achievement by any measure. But broadcast firms keep hiring him anyway, and the latest to put him on the payroll is the biggest to date: ESPN. Paige is in the starting lineup for Around the Horn, a half-hour chat show slated to debut on the network October 28. Joining him will be a quartet of fellow columnists -- Jay Mariotti of the Chicago Sun-Times and T.J. Simersof the Los Angeles Times (both of whom once worked at the Rocky Mountain News, as did Paige), plus the Dallas Morning News's Tim Cowlishaw and the Boston Globe's Bob Ryan. Host Max Kellerman will coordinate from the same Washington, D.C., studio, where another of ESPN's talk opuses, Pardon the Interruption, is taped.
Some of the details concerning Paige's participation are a bit fuzzy at this point. For instance, Paige says he'll get checks directly from ESPN, but in a recent article for Sports Business Journal, scribe David Sweet wrote, "Each paper is being paid an undisclosed amount for its columnist's time, and then the papers pass the money on to the writers." That's how Post editor Greg Moore understands things will work. "They're basically paying for us to make a person available, and we pass the money through," he notes. "They called us and asked if we would be happy to have Woody participate, and of course we want to be in that company. We think we put out a really good sports section, so it's an honor to be participating in that -- and good to get some remuneration." Moore adds that when Paige is unavailable, another Post columnist will fill his seat.
No matter how the nuts fit onto the bolts, there's no question that the Post is going out of its way to accommodate ESPN. The network has built a set in the paper's newsroom from which Paige will make his contributions. Others may do so, too. "It's big enough for more than one person," Paige says. "And people behind it from the business and sports departments will probably get a lot of face time. I've told them they should sit in the background and call their relatives." Moreover, ESPN has installed fiber-optic lines and high-tech equipment that should allow Paige to actually see his fellow panelists, as opposed to merely hearing them through an earpiece, and has hired an assistant to oversee things from this end.
Back in the day, Paige notes, newspaper executives would never have allowed TV types to invade their space in this way. "When I started doing talk radio in the '70s, papers thought it was a conflict of interest. Everyone was jealous and envious and pissed all the time. But now, with the evolution of the media, newspapers and TV and radio stations are all in bed together. You can't watch Channel 9 without a Denver Post reporter popping up."
Rehearsals for Around the Horn kick off this week, and Paige expects the program will eventually look like The Sports Reporters, another ESPN offering, as shot by MTV or maybe VH1. Indeed, a "pop-up video" feature is on the drawing board. Personality conflicts will probably be on the menu, too, thanks to Paige's antipathy for Mariotti. "We didn't get along when he was here," Paige says, "and I think every time I've seen him since, he's told me to do something physically impossible -- although he was civil to me in New York" during a planning meeting for the show several weeks ago. "But he has no sense of humor and only one gear. He's a hammer."
These ingredients could make for good television, but Paige isn't betting his desk at the Post on it. "They really seem committed to this," he maintains. "They say they want it to be on forever, but I'm sure I won't be there that long. After six days or so, they may decide they'd rather have Mark Kiszla."
ESPN strikes again: In the October 3 edition of this column, Don Crawford Jr., the man in charge of KLZ-AM/560, said that his signal would ditch its format of music "chosen by women for women" in favor of becoming an ESPN Radio affiliate on October 7. But when I tuned in for the service's promised debut, I discovered not sports chatter, but an eccentric version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" that went on for about ten minutes.
Why the delay? "For many reasons," Crawford noted later that week. "First of all, we couldn't get a contract done with ESPN Zone, and that was an integral part of our deal with ESPN Radio. Secondly, the engineering work to receive the programming from ESPN is very complicated. But the station will change to sports on Monday the 14th for sure -- unless an act of God takes place."
This time, Crawford was correct: On October 14, KLZ was delivering sports. Apparently, God wants to know what the hell happened to the Broncos last Sunday, too.
The harder they fall: To say that cliches become cliches because they're usually true is to indulge in another cliche. But the arrest last weekend of onetime Denver Post columnist Chuck Green for driving under the influence was so hackneyed, so sadly predictable, that it practically demands to be described in trite terms.
Green's departure from the Post this past spring didn't come as much of a surprise, either. He worked at the paper in various capacities, including editor, over a span of more than thirty years. But from the mid-'90s onward, he was best known to the daily's readership as a columnist with a soft spot for pets, an obsession with the murder of JonBenét Ramsey, and a fondness for the lowest common denominator. This formula had obvious flaws, but it evidently worked for a significant number of folks. Post owner Dean Singleton and former editor Glenn Guzzo declared on several occasions that Green's salvos were seen by more eyeballs than any of the paper's other regular features.
Buoyed by his popularity, Green grew lazier with time, once filling an entire column with explanations for why he'd spaced out writing a previous one. (The unforgettable headline on that August 1, 2001, gem was "Flowers Made Me Forget.") His intermittent looseness with journalistic necessities -- such as facts -- became more frequent as well, and when Post management types pressured him to improve, he cracked instead. After the Post ran an article reporting that he'd resigned, Green issued a statement in which he disagreed with that characterization ("Three the Hard Way," May 16). He subsequently reached a settlement with the Post and began making plans to move to Pueblo, where he and his wife, Susan, are building a house that should be completed by year's end. But rumors about Green's drinking habits continued to circulate, with one Westword reader noting that he'd sat down the bar from the columnist last Thanksgiving morning (Letters, June 13).
Such rumblings gained additional credence at around 6:30 p.m. on October 12, thanks to a traffic accident near the intersection of South Quebec and East Iowa in which Green was involved. Sergeant Mike Anderson, a public information officer with the Denver Police Department, reveals that Green's blood-alcohol content topped out at .231 -- well over double the amount to be considered legally drunk in Colorado. He was charged with driving under the influence.
As an indication of how quickly Green has vanished from the public eye, consider the relative dearth of coverage his bust received. A small item about it ran in the middle of the Post's "Metro Briefs" section on October 13, but the Rocky Mountain News didn't bother to reciprocate. Meanwhile, Channel 4, which is partnered with the News, seems to have been the only local TV outlet to consider his dilemma worth even a few seconds of airtime.
Whether the station made the right call is up to each individual to decide. Green was certainly a major media figure in Denver for a very long time, and he presumably remains of interest to those who loved and/or despised him. But in other respects, his tumble from fame and influence to shame and obsolescence is a timeworn tale told far too often. Unfortunately, Green has become his own cliche.